Diseases & Conditions

Is Your Ethnic Background Putting You at Risk for These Diseases?

By on 04/17/2017

There are many factors that can increase your risk of disease. Some are inherited while others are related to your lifestyle habits, behaviors and customs. Where you live, your socioeconomic status and your access to quality health care can also affect your disease risk. Any of these variables can be influenced in part by your ethnic background, but that doesn’t mean you are automatically at an increased risk of specific diseases based solely on your race or ethnicity.

While you can’t change inherited risks or some factors related to where and how you live, you can take steps to reduce your overall disease risk by making better lifestyle choices, such as eating healthy, exercising, maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking. You should also talk to your doctor about when you need to be screened for these diseases:

Cardiovascular Disease

Some ethnic groups face a greater risk of cardiovascular disease than others, partly because of a higher incidence of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.

  • African Americans are more likely to have high blood pressure and are almost twice as likely as Caucasians to have a stroke and die from it.
  • Hispanics are more likely to have risk factors such as obesity and diabetes.
  • 36 percent of American Indians who die from heart disease are under age 65, compared to only 17 percent of the overall U.S. population.

Breast Cancer

Your chance of getting breast cancer or dying from it may depend on your heritage and customs.

  • African American women under age 45 have a higher incidence of breast cancer than Caucasian women. They also have poorer survival rates.
  • Hispanic women are more likely to have larger tumors or be diagnosed with late-stage cancers.
  • Recent Asian American immigrants have a lower risk of breast cancer than Caucasian women, but those born in the U.S. have about the same risk as they adopt more Western practices.

Colon Cancer

There are differences in both incidence of colorectal cancer and mortality rates among ethnicities, but early screenings greatly improve outcomes.

  • African Americans have a higher risk of developing colon cancer and a lower survival rate than Caucasians, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans.
  • Hispanics are less likely to be screened for colon cancer than other ethnic groups and only 40% of colorectal cancers in this group are caught.

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Review Date: March 09, 2017
Reviewed By: Perry Pitkow, MD
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