Asian Americans Have Better Cancer-Specific Mortality Than Non-Hispanic Whites


Key Points

  • Japanese, Filipino, and South Asian patients had substantially better cancer-mortality rates than non-Hispanic whites.
  • After adjusting for sociodemographic factors, cancer stage, and treatment, Asian Americans’ cancer-mortality rates were consistently lower than non-Hispanic whites’, despite similarities in the odds of receiving definitive therapy.
  • Researchers believe underlying genetic or biologic differences and/or complex cultural influences may impact survival.

Numerous studies have documented racial differences in deaths from cancer among non-Hispanic whites and African Americans, but little has been known about survival outcomes for Asian Americans who have been diagnosed with cancer. In a new study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Trinh et al examined cancer patients in eight different Asian American subgroups and found that their cancer-specific mortality was substantially lower than that of non-Hispanic white patients.

Study Background

“What we have found is that Asian Americans are an incredibly diverse group that cannot be indiscriminately combined together,” said Quoc-Dien Trinh, MD, Associate Surgeon for the Division of Urology at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH), Faculty at the Center for Surgery and Public Health, and lead author of the study. “With Asian Americans, there is important variation in socioeconomic status, cultural beliefs, and length of time since immigrating to the United States that researchers must take into account.”

Although Asian Americans represent only 5% of the entire U.S. population, they are the most rapidly growing racial group in the country. This is one of the first studies to focus not just on the cancer-specific survival of Asian Americans, but also to break down that population into eight specific subgroups (Chinese, Filipino, Hawaiian, Japanese, Korean, South Asian, Vietnamese, and others) for further analysis.

Dr. Trinh and his colleagues used Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER) data to look at more than 2.5 million Asian American patients who were diagnosed with lung, breast, prostate, or colorectal cancer (the leading causes of cancer-related mortality within each gender) between 1991 and 2007.

Variation Among Subgroups

The team found significant differences in cancer outcomes among the Asian subgroups. Specifically, the researchers report that the Japanese subgroup had substantially better survival rates than non-Hispanic whites (especially with regard to prostate, breast, and colorectal cancers), as did those of Filipino and South Asian descent (for prostate and lung cancers, and lung and colorectal cancers, respectively). Hawaiian and Korean subgroups did not have substantially higher survival rates. In Chinese and Vietnamese patients, only those with lung cancer had better cancer-specific mortality rates relative to non-Hispanic whites. Overall, most Asian subgroups were less likely to die of cancer than non-Hispanic white patients.

“We found that cancer-specific mortality is statistically significantly lower for Asian Americans than for non-Hispanic whites overall, despite similarities in odds of receiving definitive therapy, and even after adjusting for sociodemographic factors, cancer stage, and treatment,” said Dr. Trinh. “We've effectively ruled out a number of variables, suggesting instead that underlying genetic or biological differences and/or complex cultural influences may impact survival in Asian American cancer patients.”

This study opens the door for future research to better understand why Asian Americans have better cancer-specific mortality than non-Hispanic whites and to determine whether and to what extent genetic and/or cultural factors are involved.

Dr. Trinh is the corresponding author of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute article.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.