Unfortunately, a typical South Asian lifestyle includes many of the foods and lifestyle habits associated with increased cancer risk. The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) have published 10 steps to lowering cancer risk. If you are a cancer survivor, you should also follow these recommendations. In addition to the 10 steps below, if you are using tobacco, be sure to quit as soon as possible.
Immigrant Versus Native South Asians
The above-mentioned study also found that cancer rates for all cancers except cervical, head and neck cancer were actually higher in South Asians living in California than those living in their native countries. In addition, this study revealed that native South Asians had a different pattern of cancers than South Asians living in California. For instance, prostate, colon and lung cancer are the most common cancers for South Asian men in California. In contrast, head, neck and stomach cancer are the most common cancers for South Asian men living in India. Breast, colon, uterine, ovarian and cervical cancer are the most common cancers for South Asian women in California, while cervical, breast, ovarian, head and neck cancers are the most common cancers for South Asian women living in India.
The higher overall incidence of cancer in immigrant South Asians may be due to differences in screening patterns, environmental influences (such as tobacco use and exercise) and dietary changes, which for many reflects a transition from a relatively low-fat, high-fiber diet with natural ingredients to one containing more saturated fat, animal protein, less fiber and more processed foods containing artificial ingredients.
Routine Cancer Screening
Many South Asians neglect to regularly see their physicians for routine cancer screening exams. Fears about blood tests and routine procedures, communication barriers and an attitude of not needing to see a doctor unless symptoms arise are just a few of the factors contributing to under screening. In addition, young South Asian females often hesitate to schedule regular pap smears due to its implication of sexual activity, while older South Asian females frequently neglect routine cancer screening because they are concerned about taking care of all of the other family members.
Oral, Throat and Esophageal Cancers
Oral, throat and esophageal cancer are more common in native South Asians due to high rates of tobacco use, which includes smoking bidis (unfiltered tobacco leaves), chewing paan (tobacco rolled up in betel nut leaves) and sucking/chewing areca (a South Asian nut). Symptoms of oral and throat cancer include the following:
- A sore in the mouth that easily bleeds and does not heal within two weeks
- Lumps or white, red or dark patches inside the mouth
- Thickening of the cheek
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing or moving the tongue or jaw
- Persistently sore throat or feeling of something being caught in the throat
- Persistent hoarseness or other voice changes
Esophageal cancer is also associated with tobacco use in addition to alcohol use and long-term acid reflux. Symptoms include the following:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Unexpected weight loss
- Pain during swallowing
- Persistent chest pain
- Coughing up blood
If you or someone you know experiences any of the above symptoms, speak with your healthcare provider.
Lowering Cancer Risk through Lifestyle Changes
Unfortunately, a typical South Asian lifestyle includes many of the foods and lifestyle habits associated with increased cancer risk. The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) have published 10 steps to lowering cancer risk. If you are a cancer survivor, you should also follow these recommendations. In addition to the 10 steps, if you are using tobacco, be sure to quit as soon as possible.
Last Reviewed: 2012
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