CERVICAL CANCER: Vietnamese-Americans Have Highest Rate
"Vietnamese-American women have the highest rate of cervical cancer of any ethnic group in this country," the San Jose Mercury News reports. Their rate is five times higher than the white population. Among Asian Americans, the rate for Vietnamese-American women is three times higher than Korean-Americans, "nearly" six times higher than Chinese-Americans and almost eight times higher than Japanese-American women. The Mercury News reports that cervical cancer rates are high in Vietnam and are "far higher in the south than in the north" part of the country. A majority of the Vietnamese-Americans in California -- 107,000 in Santa Clara County alone -- are from South Vietnam.
"One reason for the statistics," the Mercury News notes, "is that a culture that emphasizes herbs, acupuncture and other traditional remedies does not know about Western-style cancer screening and may not want to admit cancer exists." Vietnamese-American women are likely to avoid Pap smears, or put off going to a doctor until they show signs of illness. As a disease, cancer possesses a stigma among the Asian population, and many women wrongly believe it is "shameful" and can be caught "by sitting near a woman with it," or from poor hygiene. Thoa Nguyen of the Vietnamese Health Promotion Project at the University of California-San Francisco said, "For Vietnamese, they think if a woman has cervical cancer she's not a good woman, that she fools around." Vietnamese-American citizen Huyen Tu said, "Once it's known that a [woman] has cervical cancer, she's afraid her husband will leave her. Or that her daughter will have a hard time getting married." To dispel these cultural myths, the Health Promotion Project "spent three years training local Vietnamese-Americans to teach others about cervical cancer and Pap smears," the Mercury News reports. The results were promising. "After 86 ... sessions, the number of Vietnamese-American women in the community who had a recent Pap smear increased from 26% to 45% (Schulte, 8/5).