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Smoking and Lung Cancer Heavily Impact Asian Americans

April 18, 2023

As the nation recognizes April as National Minority Health Awareness Month, it’s important to consider the health disparities affecting racial and ethnic minorities, including why lung cancer is so prevalent among

Asian Americans, and claims thousands of lives each year within that community.

Lung cancer is the second most prevalent disease among all cancers and is the leading cause of cancer deaths within the Asian American community. According to the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program at the National Cancer Institute, there were 25,608 cases of lung and bronchus cancers that contributed to 11.2% of all diagnosed cancers in non-Hispanic Asians and Pacific Islanders from 2015 to 2019.

SEER added there were 19,406 reported deaths from lung and bronchus cancers, contributing to 20.7% of all cancer deaths within the same racial group from 2016 to 2020.

The Association of Community Cancer Centers reports that:

  • Lung cancer is 18% higher among Southeast Asians than White Americans.
  • Chinese individuals have the highest mortality rates of lung cancer among all Asian subgroups.
  • Smoking rates are significantly higher among Southeast Asians.

Smoking is the primary risk factor driving lung cancer rates in the Asian American community. However, developing lung cancer and mortality can be prevented, and quitting smoking as soon as possible can lead to a significant reduction in lung cancer risk.

Additionally, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommends annual lung cancer screening for current and former smokers who meet certain criteria.

“If you smoke or have smoked in the past, it’s a good idea for you to ask your doctor if you qualify for an annual lung cancer screening,” said Dr. Adriel A. Fajilan, a pulmonologist with Kaiser Permanente Orange County. “This is especially true for those who are at the highest risk level for lung cancer – people who are 
50- to 80-years-old who are, or were, heavy smokers.”

Anh. T. Dinh, who immigrated to the United States from Vietnam, is a survivor of stage 2 lung cancer and a former smoker, starting the nicotine habit at age 14. Dinh, 69, said he did not have any second thoughts about quitting smoking after his lung cancer diagnosis.

Today, the Orange County resident and lung cancer survivor says he has a simple message for fellow Asian Americans, and everyone else.

“If they smoke, they should stop. Smoking is not good for your health, your lungs, and you can get cancer, just like I did,” he said. “Parents should also teach their kids about the dangers of smoking because of how children are influenced and often fall to peer pressure. Parents must make every effort to protect their children’s health.”

How does lung cancer begin?
Lung cancer starts when abnormal cells grow out of control in the lung. Lung cancer can develop anywhere in the lungs, affect any part of the respiratory system, and if left untreated, can spread to organs outside the lungs. 

What are the symptoms?

The first signs of lung cancer may include:

·         Coughing

·         Wheezing

·         Shortness of breath

·         Chest pain

·         Coughing up blood

·         Fatigue

·         Unintentional weight loss

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s recommended that you consult with your health care provider, Dr. Fajilan advised. It’s important to know, however, that lung cancer (especially early-stage lung cancer) may present no symptoms at all.

“If you smoke, quitting has many health benefits, can significantly lower your lifetime risk of acquiring lung cancer, and can significantly extend your lifespan,” Dr. Fajilan said. “It’s never too late to quit the nicotine habit, and there are many programs out there that will help you do so.”

If you are a current smoker and are thinking about quitting, Kaiser Permanente offers tools that can help you personalize a plan to stop smoking.