An adult woman medical professional writes in a binder.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), cancer was the second leading cause of death in the United States in 2006. This disease also ranks as the second leading cause of death among Japanese Americans in California. There are many different types of cancer, and some types are more common in certain gender and/or ethnicity. What about Japanese Americans? What type of cancer are the highest risks for Japanese Americans?


What is cancer?

Normal cells grow and divide in an orderly way. Cancer begins when cells in a part of body start to grow in a disorderly manner. Cells become cancer cells due to damaged DNA. Usually, when DNA is damaged, cells can fix it. If the cell cannot be fixed, it dies. However, in cancer cells, damaged DNA is not fixed. Instead of dying, these damaged cells keep making new cells, which have the same damaged DNA. Because as is, it implies that cancer cells can transform normal cells (i.e., infective agent). Cancer cells can invade normal tissues and displace normal cells.

What are the most common cancers in the U.S.?

While cancers can develop in many different sites, ACS states that the most common site of cancer for men is the prostate while that women is the breast. The second common sites are lung and bronchus for both genders. The third common sites are colon and rectum for both genders.

What are the most common cancers for Japanese Americans?

According to a study which compared incidence, mortality, and risk factors for cancer among Asian Americans in California (Chinese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese), stomach, colon, and cervix cancers are more prevalent among Asian Americans than in the White population in the U.S. (1).

The same study found that Japanese Americans had the highest number of cases and death rates from colo-rectal cancer for both men and women. Japanese American women had the highest prevalence of breast cancer while Japanese American men had the highest prevalence of prostate cancer in California (1). Interestingly, one study revealed that Japanese American Women living in the U.S. had breast cancer rate two times greater than women living in Japan (3).

Stomach cancer is very common in Japan while the U.S. is one of the countries that have a low rate for the disease. However, one study found that Japanese Americans had a significantly higher rate of stomach cancer than Whites in the U.S. (2). Another study stated that Japanese Americans had the second highest death rate from stomach cancer among other Asian American groups in California (1).

What are the risk factors for cancer?

Diets that are high in processed food and/or red meat and low in fruit and vegetable are associated with colon cancer. Also, heavy alcohol consumption, lack of physical activities and obesity being overweight are risk factors for this type of cancer.

Westernized lifestyle including late child bearing, fewer pregnancies and increased use of post- menopausal hormone therapy, may play a role in the high incidence of breast cancer in Japanese American women.

The risk of getting prostate cancer increases with age. Two-thirds of men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer in the U.S. are 65 years old or older. High fat intake is also associated with this disease.

High intake of smoked food, salted fish and meats, and pickled vegetables, which is common in traditional Japanese meals, may increase the risk of stomach cancer. Diets that are high in sodium and nitrites/nitrates are associated with stomach cancer. Nitrites and nitrates that are often found in cured meats are known to cause this type of cancer.

Some cancers are caused by infectious diseases, such as Hepatitis B Virus (HBV), Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), and Helicobacter Pylori (H. pylori) to name a few.

For all cancers, genetics can play a big role. In other words, if you have a family member with a certain type of cancer, your risk of getting the same type of cancer increases. Also smoking can significantly increase the risk for getting a certain type of cancer since smoking damages DNA in cells. Heavy alcohol consumption is another risk factor, too.

What can I do to prevent getting cancer?

ACS suggests the following for cancer prevention:

  • Do not smoke.
  • Limit alcohol consumption.
  • Limit sun exposure (skin cancer)
  • Eat lots of fruit and vegetables, whole grains (pasta and bread), and limit foods that are high in saturated fat and red meats.
  • Exercise regularly. 30 to 45 minutes of physical activities five days a week is recommended.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.

Where can I get more information?

American Cancer Society

(800)ACS-2345 or (800) 228-2345

What is Cancer?
What Are the Risk Factors for cancer?
Can Cancer be Prevented?


(1)McCracken, Melissa, et al., “Cancer Incidence, Mortality, and Associated Risk Factors Among Asian Americans of Chinese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese Ethnicities” A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 2007: 57: 190-205.

(2)Kagawa-Singer, M. (1997). “Addressing Issues for Early Detection and Screening in Ethnic Populations”. Oncology Nursing forum, 24(10): 1705-1711.

(3)Stanford, J. L,. et al.(1995).”Breast Cancer Incidence in Asian Migrants to the United States and Their Dependants”. Epidemiology, 6(2): 181-183.