Researchers at the University of Southern California have tracked every cancer diagnosis in the Los Angeles area for the last 40 years, more than 1.3 million in all. Four decades of research, published in a new report called Cancer in Los Angeles County: Trends by Race/Ethnicity 1976-2012, concludes that nearly every cancer case is preventable.
The report’s senior author, Dennis Deapen, professor at the Keck School of Medicine, concludes that prevention works in the majority of cases, and it’s often just a matter of good diet and avoid bad habits. Deapen recommends regular checkups to catch cancer early and while it’s still treatable.
Among the report’s many conclusions about cancer is that cancer rates among Asian women living in Los Angeles are much higher than their counterparts living in Asia, largely due to an unhealthy Western diet.
But there’s a tradeoff too. Immigrants to Los Angeles tend to see fewer cancers that are more prevalent in their home countries, something which Deapen and Lihua Liu, another lead author of the report and a professor at the USC Keck School of Medicine, conclude is due to less exposure to risk factors that are unique to those countries.
For example, risk factors for stomach and liver cancers are much higher in Asian countries where H. pylori, a digestive bacteria, and hepatitis B are more common. Lung cancer is the top form of cancer for men of Vietnamese descent, largely thanks to high smoking rates among that population. For L.A. women generally, breast and colorectal cancers are the most common. The study found that Black men have the highest rates of cancer of any demographic. Another disturbing conclusion is that skin cancer is on the rise, particularly for white residents. Whites also have a higher risk for brain cancers and leukemia. Latino women have the lowest rates of cancer, with just 300 cases per 100,000 people. Latino women do suffer an increased risk for cervical cancer, but that trend is declining. Vietnamese women have the next-lowest cancer rate, at about 350 cases per 100,000 residents.
Los Angeles, home to one in 10 of the country’s Latinos and Asian-Americans, is a great laboratory for researchers to study how diet and lifestyle affects people’s cancer risk. The message for immigrants, Liu says, is that moving to a new country can significantly change their cancer risk.
The good news is that cancer rates are generally going down. Over the last 40 years, the number of deaths to cancer have steadily declining.
That may be because L.A. is home to some of the best oncology experts in the country. A recent ranking by U.S. News and Report found that UCLA Health Hospitals ranked No. 1 in California and No. 5 in the nation. UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center ranked 5th in national for oncology studies like prevention and treatment.
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(all data current as of 7/23/2017)
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