Do ethnicity and race put people at higher risk for head and neck cancers?

Do ethnicity and race put people at higher risk for head and neck cancers?

If you’re black, your risk of developing head and neck cancer — which consists of cancers of the lips, mouth, vocal cords, throat and salivary glands — is double that of if you’re white. For many years it was thought that genetic factors might be at play, but recent research suggests the increased risk may be related more to your environment than your racial background.

Of all the head and neck cancer patients, survival rates are lower for those who live in rural areas, but the combination of race and rural life is particularly dangerous. Black rural patients were more likely to die within five years of diagnosis than white rural patients.

Researchers are working to find out why.

In one study of patients in the National Cancer Database from 2004 to 2015, the team of researchers suggested that lack of access to treatment centres, medical specialists and public transport in rural areas led to subsequent diagnoses and treatment. This is likely to be part of the problem as early diagnosis and treatment improve the long-term survival chances for most cancers.

Another factor that is likely playing a role is that black patients in general are more likely to distrust the healthcare system and healthcare providers. This lack of trust in the system comes from historical discrimination as well as current examples of mistreatment. These feelings of mistrust discourage some Black patients from getting regular screenings, and income and health insurance coverage disparities can also limit access to health care for Blacks on lower incomes.

Does genetics or social behavior make head and neck cancers more dangerous for black people, or is it both?

Aviane Auguste, Ph.D.he is the lead author of a study he reviews diagnosis of head and neck cancer among black patients from Africa, the Caribbean and the United States. The study looked at data from black women in those localities and found that head and neck cancer rates differed between regions, even though the populations were racially similar.

Auguste said the research’s main finding was that the environment people lived in had more to do with their risk of developing head and neck cancers than genetic factors.

Women in Kenya had some of the highest rates of head and neck cancer in the study, and the researchers noted a cultural factor that may have contributed to this difference.

“Men and women in Kenya developed head and neck cancers at nearly the same rate, which is rare for these cancers, so we tried to understand why,” Auguste said. “We found that there was a traditional chewing of (a) leaf called hat by both men and women, which may be associated with the increased risk in that population.”

Doctors at the Medical University of South Carolina Hollings Cancer Center suggest racial differences in head and neck cancer survival rates they have both biological and social components.

For example, cases of oropharyngeal cancer or throat cancer have increased over the past 20 years, particularly those associated with human papillomavirus (HPV). Marvella Ford, Ph.D., SmartState Endowed Chair in Prostate Cancer Disparities at South Carolina State University and Associate Director of Population Sciences and Cancer Disparities at Hollings Cancer Center, said in an article that white individuals were more likely to get a diagnosis of HPV-related head and neck cancer, while diagnosis of head and neck cancers among blacks they were more likely to be associated with alcohol and tobacco use.

While overall smoking rates among African Americans were only slightly higher than among whites, African Americans were more likely to use menthol cigarettes, which proved more difficult to quit. Similar behavior has been found in relation to alcohol consumption: African Americans have lower rates of alcoholism than whites or other people of color, but research suggests that due to higher rates of other comorbidities, black patients with significant alcohol consumption have a higher risk of developing alcohol-related health conditions.

Unfortunately, non-HPV-related throat cancer has a worse prognosis than HPV-related throat cancer.

Another study looked only at head and neck cancer patients who had diagnoses unrelated to HPV. In that study, black patients had lower survival rates. The authors suggested that patients’ lower socioeconomic status, which can make it more difficult for them to access health care due to lack of insurance, transportation, and/or education, contributed to these disparities, not just their racial background. .

Reduce the risk of head and neck cancer

Health advocates say improving access to screening and treatment can help improve head and neck cancer survival rates for black patients in rural areas. Providing more clinics in rural areas or having more specialists visit rural areas for doctor visits can help. Improving insurance coverage to make care more financially affordable can also help.

No matter what race you are, women can reduce their risk of developing head and neck cancer by changing their behavior, Auguste said. Small studies suggest that the HPV vaccine has helped reduce cases of head and neck cancer.

“In terms of prevention, based on well-known scientific evidence, I would say that the best measures to adopt are behavioral, such as quitting smoking and reducing alcohol consumption as much as possible,” he said. “We have the human papillomavirus vaccine, and depending on the age range recommendations, I would consider looking into it, because HPV is still a major risk factor, especially in the US and the Caribbean.”

People can also improve their chances of survival by paying attention to any health changes they notice on a daily basis. Symptoms of head and neck cancer such as a sore throat, trouble swallowing, a lump in the neck, or a sore mouth can be confused with other conditions that aren’t as serious. Even some symptoms of Covid can be similarand with many people delaying routine medical or dental checkups due to the pandemic, healthcare workers fear diagnoses may have been delayed or missed.

Head and neck cancer need not be a death sentence. By taking preventative steps, you can reduce your risk or improve your chances of survival if you are diagnosed.

This resource was created with support from Merck.

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