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Local oncologist says minorities face tough battle against certain cancers

Photo By: Chelsea Edwards
Photo By: Chelsea Edwards(KWTX)
Published: Apr. 11, 2018 at 10:12 PM CDT
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Prevention is key in the fight against disease, but some minority groups have a tougher battle ahead when it comes to certain types of cancers.

April is Minority Health Awareness Month which was created to bring attention to gaps in healthcare for specific groups.

However, there’s no discriminating when it comes to certain risk factors.

"Treatments are better. People handle them better, but it's even better if you never have the cancer."

Dr. Carlos Encarnacion of Texas Oncology has worked in Waco for more than 25 years.

He has been named a 'Leader in Medicine' by the American Health Council, but he hopes you never have to see him for treatment.

“Some cancers tend to be a little more aggressive than patients in the white race even if it's caught at the same stage,” Encarnacion said.

He believes minorities- especially African-Americans and Hispanics- should be aware of their risk factors which include genetics and lifestyle.

"The American Cancer Society in the last report they came out with, stated that smoking in Hispanics is a little bit less than the white population. However, obesity tends to be higher in Hispanics- at least Hispanic women."

Hispanics reportedly have higher rates of liver, gastric, and cervical cancers, but because the term covers a wide variety of ethnic groups- it’s harder to pinpoint a particular gene that may be a factor.

On the bright side, breast, lung, and colon cancer are less common in Hispanics.

He says African Americans have the highest death rates from heart disease, diabetes and the majority of cancers.

”Not only cancer but mortality in certain conditions is higher in black people,” he says.

The group has the most male smokers and obese women, but another factor could also be to blame.

"If it's harder to get medical care, it can make it a little less likely for a person to survive cancer," Encarnacion said.

Black men die two and a half times the rate of whites from prostate cancer, but overall, death rates from the disease are declining.

"It seems to be going down faster in blacks," he says, pointing out the shrinking disparity between the groups.

"People are becoming aware of the importance of screening ."

Some are using at-home DNA test kits to find out if they are at risk.

In March, The FDA authorized the company "23 and Me" to run reports on three genetic variants known to be associated with a higher risk of breast, ovarian and prostate cancer.

Dr. Encarnacion says the regulation of testing is very different from what you get from a doctor.

“People come with results of mutations, but when they test, those mutations are not real, so they can cause a lot of confusion and concern,” he says.

“You can do it, but it's more like they say- for entertainment purposes only.”

He says getting the right screenings regularly is important.

"We don't want to establish a cookie cutter approach to screening. It's individualized, and a patient should talk to his doctor about what screening would be good for him or for her."

When it comes to lifestyle factors, he reminds everyone to stop smoking, eat right and exercise and says prevention is the same for everyone- regardless of race.