Health Equity in Breast Cancer for Asian American Pacific Islander Women – Policy Brief

16 Oct

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and Asian American women are oftenly not recognized as having breast cancer; Asian American women get breast cancer too.  Research is showing that breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women (Matsuno, 2011) and the incidence and mortality rates of breast cancer in AAPI women are rising more than any other racial/ethnic group (Oh, 2012). The risk of death for Asian American women with breast cancer is 1.5 to 1.7 times higher than that of white women with cancer and has been the number one killer of Asian American women since 1980 (Foo, 2010). In Minnesota, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer (MDH, 2001).

When Asian women migrate to the U.S. “their risk of developing breast cancer increases up to six-fold.” (Ziegler, 1993) There are many barriers that face AAPI women, especially refugee women, and this includes racism, daily discrimination, cultural incompetence of health professionals, language barriers, lack of health insurance and extraordinary trauma resulting from their experiences of war. Misinformation about breast cancer that creates fear and denial is another serious barrier to health. For example, there is a common notion that female organs cease to function if they are not used for procreation and therefore are not susceptible to disease and the belief that cancer is inevitably fatal. (Foo, 2010). Researchers pointed out the following consequences:

• Later diagnoses: Compared to all other women in the United States, Asian-American women are the least likely to have ever had a mammogram.
• Earlier death: Asian American women in California were younger at hospitalization and younger at death from breast cancer than white and Latina women.
• 41% of Asian women were diagnosed when cancer had already spread beyond the breast, resulting in higher death rates.

Although Asian American women have the lowest death rate from breast cancer compared to other racial groups of women, when breast cancer data is disaggregated into ethnic groups of Asian Americans, disparities become obvious. For example:

• Japanese-American women have the highest breast cancer rate among Asian-American women.
• Filipina-American women had the second highest incidence (102.4/100,000) and the highest mortality (17.5/100,000) rate for breast cancer compared to any other Asian American ethnic group.
• Native Hawaiian women have the third highest rate of dying from breast cancer, and it is increasing.


1. Breast cancer is a very real threat to Asian American women of all ages in Minnesota
2. Asian American refugee women are going to experience an increase in the incidence of breast cancer


1. Create current policies with a health equity analysis to produce the best policies for all Asian American and Pacific Islanders.
2. Increase research on breast cancer in all ethnic groups of Asian American women to identify Asian American communities that need to be targeted for specific breast cancer services.
3. Increase research on Southeast Asian women refugees showing the relationship of post-traumatic stress and breast cancer.
4. Provide funds to Asian American ethnic agencies to outreach to their communities to dispel myths and encourage breast cancer screenings and services.
5. Train community health workers from the ethnic communities to provide culturally competent care and better access to preventive care and high quality cancer care.

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Posted by on October 16, 2012 in Uncategorized


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