Latinos’ leading cause of death now cancer, UT Health San Antonio researcher says

Health risks, cultural factors, disparities being studied

SAN ANTONIO – The leading cause of death among Latinos is now cancer, according to Dr. Amelie Ramirez, a nationally recognized researcher at the UT Health San Antonio Mays Cancer Center.

“For other population groups, it’s cardiovascular disease,” Ramirez said. “We’re trying to find out why. Why are we seeing this unusual increase in cancer?”

Over the next year, a tremendous increase of 142% is predicted among Latinos nationally, Ramirez said.

Ramirez is the director of the Institute for Health Promotion Research at UT Health San Antonio. She said her research team also found that Latinos in South Texas have many chronic diseases starting at earlier stages in life.

“So they’re going to live with these health problems for a lot longer period of time,” Ramirez said.

She said a third of children are overweight or obese.

“Many of them may not outlive their parents,” Ramirez said. “Their quality of life is not going to be as good because they’re dealing with the health problems that obesity brings on.”

Ramirez said South Texas is seeing higher rates of liver, stomach, gallbladder and cervical cancers.

“All of these are also semi-associated with obesity risk,” Ramirez said.

Beyond health risks for cancer, such as obesity and diabetes, which can be found in other population groups, Ramirez said the disparity among Latinos is the lack of medical insurance, which could be why more Latinos are dying of cancer.

She said, as a result, “If they have cancer, how early can they come in to be treated, or can they get treated?”

Some possible options for financial assistance include Medicaid and Medicare or CareLink and ThriveWell.

Ramirez said the fear factor among many Latinos is particularly interesting. She said many don’t even want to talk about it because they think, “If they just talk about it, it might happen to them.”

In light of the cancer death rate among Latinos, Ramirez said the work of Salud America! is vital. She said the digital network was created to spread potentially life-saving information.

“We’re really focusing on how we can give them those preventative strategies to help lead a healthier life,” Ramirez said.


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About the Authors:

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.

Luis Cienfuegos is a photographer at KSAT 12.