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Treating Breast Cancer Early

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Breast Cancer Rates Increasing in Some Asian American Populations

Medically Reviewed By Angelica Balingit, MD

Breast cancer rates among Asian Americans used to be the lowest of any ethnic group. However, studies over the past 20 years suggest that the risk of breast cancer in Asian Americans is increasing. 


Though there isn’t a wealth of research on breast cancer risks in the Asian American community, a study Trusted Source Wiley Peer reviewed journal Go to source suggests the picture is a somewhat complicated one. 

A recent 2019 study Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source suggests risk levels appear to vary between American-born and immigrant Asian Americans, and among the various Asian origin groups. Most importantly, the general findings underscore the importance of regular breast cancer screenings and finding consistent care if cancer is diagnosed.

Understanding the risks

Breast cancer risks for the general public include a mix of genetic and lifestyle factors, as well as a person’s medical and reproductive history. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source lists the following among the more common breast cancer risk factors:

  • age (risks start to climb around age 50)
  • genetic mutations
  • reproductive history
  • dense breasts
  • family history of cancer
  • previous radiation therapy
  • sedentary lifestyle
  • excessive alcohol use
  • being obese after menopause
  • some forms of hormone replacement therapy

However, these risk factors don’t necessarily explain why Asian Americans are experiencing heightened breast cancer risks after having had relatively low risks for many years. 

A 2019 study Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source of Asian American women born in the United States and those who emigrated to the U.S. suggests that the risk of breast cancer is higher among those who moved to the U.S. 

While the recent study findings didn’t determine an explanation for the disparity, researchers noted that immigrant women were more likely to have recent mammograms, which might explain why higher rates of breast cancer were detected. 

Another theory is that recent Asian American immigrants tend to come from a higher socioeconomic background, which is associated with a higher rate of breast cancer.

However, even within the Asian American community, women from certain groups had differing breast cancer risks. A 2020 study Trusted Source American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Peer reviewed journal Go to source found that Chinese and Filipina Asian Americans had some of the highest rates of breast cancer compared with Korean and Vietnamese Asian Americans.

Tracking such data through the years paints something of a moving picture. A study suggests Japanese and Filipina women faced the fastest-rising breast cancer risk — about twice that of Chinese and Korean women living in the U.S. at the time.

The importance of screening

The rising prevalence of breast cancer among Asian Americans can be a reminder to maintain a regular schedule of mammography screenings and to understand your own risk based on personal and family history.

A 2021 report suggests that while cancer is the leading cause of death in this group — the only ethnic group for whom heart disease is not the No. 1 cause of death — cancer screenings in the Asian American community are lower than most of the general public.

The rising risk of Asian Americans getting breast cancer can prompt those in medium or high-risk groups to begin regular cancer screenings as recommended.

Breast cancer screening guidelines Trusted Source JAMA Peer reviewed journal Go to source from the American Cancer Society recommend that women with an average breast cancer risk should consider an annual mammography starting at age 45, while at 55, the guidelines suggest screening every 2 years. 

As the American Cancer Society Trusted Source American Cancer Society Highly respected international organization Go to source notes, breast cancer that is found early, before it has spread, has the best chance of being treated successfully.

Work with your doctor

In addition to mammography screenings, you can also practice regular breast self-examinations and schedule breast exams with an experienced healthcare professional. These steps can often help identify cancers early enough to allow for treatments that result in the best outcomes possible.

Find a doctor who makes you feel confident about your health and well-being. Getting personalized advice and having your questions answered are critical to maintaining good breast health and peace of mind.

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Medical Reviewer: Angelica Balingit, MD
Last Review Date: 2023 Mar 31
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