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Here’s how your race or ethnicity may increase your risk for these diseases.

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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 healthcare can also affect your disease risk.

Although any of these variables can be impacted in part by your ethnic background, it doesn’t mean you are automatically at a high risk of specific diseases based solely on your race or ethnicity. But you should talk to your doctor about screenings you may need and steps you can take to stay healthier, especially if your ethnic background puts you at a higher risk of developing a specific disease.

While you can’t change inherited risks or some factors related to where and how you live, the good news is that you can reduce your overall disease risk by making better lifestyle choices, such as eating healthy, exercising, maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking.

Cardiovascular Disease

Some ethnicities face a greater risk of cardiovascular disease than others, especially non-Hispanic black persons. This is partly because of a higher incidence of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. According to the CDC:

  • Black adults are more likely to have high blood pressure than other ethnicities.
  • Hispanic and black adults are more likely to have cardiovascular risk factors such as obesity and diabetes.
  • Black adults are almost twice as likely as white adults to have a stroke and are more likely to die from it. They are also more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than other ethnicities.

Breast Cancer

Your chance of getting breast cancer or dying from it may be influenced by your ethnic background. According to the Susan G. Komen Foundation:

  • White and black women are more likely to get breast cancer than Asian/Pacific Islander or Hispanic women.
  • Younger black women (under age 40) are more likely to get breast cancer than white women, but that trend is reversed in older women (ages 60-84).
  • Hispanic women are more likely to be diagnosed with late-stage cancers.
  • Recent immigrants, such as Asian women, tend to have a lower risk of breast cancer than other ethnicities, but their risk increases as they adopt more Western practices.

“For all women, It is important to focus on the factors for which decrease the risk of breast cancer:

1. Maintain a healthy weight
2. Exercise at least 2-4 hours weekly
3. Take in less than 3 servings of alcohol each week ( a total of 12 ounces of wine OR 3 beers OR 3 ounces of liquor)
4. No smoking
5. Avoid hormone replacement therapy or limit it to the lowest dose and the shortest duration.”

– Dr. Mary Elizabeth Christian, Breast Surgery

Colon Cancer

There are differences in both diagnosis and death rates of colorectal cancer among ethnicities, but early screenings greatly improve outcomes. According to the American Cancer Society® and the CDC:

  • Black males and females have a higher risk of developing colon cancer and a lower survival rate than other ethnicities.
  • Jews of European descent have one of the highest risks of developing colon cancer compared to any ethnicity worldwide.
  • Hispanics are less likely to be screened for colon cancer than other ethnicities. This makes it more likely that colorectal cancer won’t be caught early.

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Date Last Reviewed: February 18, 2021

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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