woman on balcony

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), one in three people will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. ACS also reports that cancer was the leading cause of premature death of those ages 20 to 65 and the second leading cause of death in children ages 1 to 14 in the United States in 2020 (Cancer Facts & Figures, 2020). 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 genders and/or ethnicities.

Definition of Cancer

Normal cells grow and divide in an orderly way. Cancer begins when cells in a part of the body start to grow in a disorderly manner. Cells become cancerous due to damaged DNA. Usually, when DNA is damaged, cells can fix it, and if the cell cannot be fixed, it usually dies. However, in cancer cells, damaged DNA is not fixed and instead of dying, these damaged cells keep making new cells, which now have the same damaged DNA. Therefore, cancer cells can invade normal tissues and displace and/or transform normal cells.

Common Cancers in United States

While cancers can develop in many different areas of the body, ACS states that the most common site of cancer for men is the prostate, and for women it is the breast. The second most common cancer site is in the lungs, followed by the colon and rectum, for both genders.

Common Cancers for Japanese Americans

lung cancer spelled out

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. (McCracken, 2007). Among Asian American men and women, lung cancer is the second most commonly occurring cancer while being the primary cause of cancer-related mortality (Wu, 2016).

The same study found that Japanese Americans had the highest number of cases and death rates from colorectal (colon) cancer for both men and women. Data reports that the incidence rate for breast cancer was highest in Japanese Americans compared with other Asian subgroups (McCracken, 2007).  One study revealed that Japanese American women living in the U.S. had breast cancer rates two times greater than women living in Japan (Stanford, 1995). Asian American men are more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than any other cancer (Wu, 2016).  

Stomach cancer is also very common in Japan, while the U.S. has 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. (Kagawa-Singer, 1997). Another study stated that Japanese Americans had the second highest death rate from stomach cancer among other Asian American groups in California (McCracken, 2007).

Risk Factors for Cancer

Diets that are high in processed food and/or red meat and low in fruits and vegetables are commonly associated with colon cancer. Heavy alcohol consumption, lack of physical activities, and obesity/being overweight are also risk factors for colon cancer.

A westernized lifestyle including late childbearing, 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 (Deapen, 2002).

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 are common in traditional Japanese meals, may increase the risk of stomach cancer. Diets that are high in sodium and nitrites/nitrates, food preservatives, are also associated with stomach cancer. Unnaturally occurring nitrites and nitrates that are often found in cured and processed meats are known to cause cancer (Brennan, 2020).

Some cancers are caused by infectious diseases, including but not limited to, hepatitis B virus (HBV), human papilloma virus (HPV), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori).

For all cancers, genetics and family history of cancer can play a role in an individual’s likelihood of a cancer diagnoses. 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. Smoking can also significantly increase the risk for getting specific types of cancer as smoking damages DNA in cells.

Cancer Prevention

ACS suggests the following for cancer prevention:

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

Cancer Screenings

doctor holding xray

As cells age, it makes them more susceptible for turning cancerous. So, as people age they become more likely to get cancer. The median age of a cancer diagnosis is 66 years old (Age and Cancer Risk, 2021).

Screening tests are used to find cancer when there are no physical symptoms present. Following recommended screening guidelines and regular doctor visits gives you the best chance of finding cancer early when it’s small and more treatable, and before it has spread.

  • Prostrate Cancer
    • Starting at age 50, men should discuss with their health care provider the uncertainties, risks, and potential benefits of testing to decide whether they want to be tested (Cancer Screening Guidelines).
  • Lung Cancer
    • Almost  90% of people diagnosed with lung cancer are 55 or older (Lung Cancer Facts).
    • Starting at age 50, people should talk to their health care provider about their smoking history to determine if they should yearly screen for lung cancer (Cancer Screening Guidelines).
  • Breast Cancer
    • About 66% of invasive breast cancers are diagnosed in women 55 or older.
    • Starting at age 45, women should have a mammogram, a breast cancer testing, once a year (Age, 2022). At age 65 or older, a mammogram should be done every 2 years or every year.
  • Colorectal Cancer
    • Approximately 90% of people diagnosed with the colorectal cancer are 50 or older (Myers, 2021).

For anyone who is of higher risk of certain cancers, you should discuss with a health care provider which type of tests are best and how often. It is also important to be aware of your own body and how it typically feels while noting any possible changes that may need to be addressed. If there is something that may need to be addressed, talk to your health care provider so they can assess the symptoms.

While you cannot control age, genetics, gender, or preexisting health conditions that may factor in to the probability of getting cancer, there are lifestyle choices and preventative measures to decrease your chances of getting it or increasing the chance of survival by diagnosing the cancer early on. It is important to consult your health care provider with any questions or concerns.

Additional Information


“Age.” Age,, 29 June 2022,

“Cancer Screening Guidelines by Age | American Cancer Society.” Cancer Screening Guidelines by Age | American Cancer Society,, Accessed 30 June 2022.

 “Find Out the Number One Risk Factor for Colon Cancer.” Verywell Health,, 25 June 2021,

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

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.

“Risk Factors: Age.” National Cancer Institute,, 5 Mar. 2021,

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

“Top Cancer Treatment and Research Center | City of Hope | California | City of Hope.” City of Hope,, 28 June 2022,

Wu, Anna H., and Daniel O. Stram. Cancer Epidemiology among Asian Americans. 2016,