County Cancer Rate Is 3rd Highest in State : Health: Latinas show an especially high incidence of cervical problems. Breast, skin diseases are more prevalent than expected.


Orange County has the third-highest rate of cancer of 10 California regions, according to a special study by the California Department of Health Services.

The incidence of cervical cancer among Latinas is especially high in Orange County, breast and skin cancer is more prevalent than expected, and prostate cancer now tops lung cancer as the most frequent cancer affecting Orange County males, according to Hoda Anton-Culver, director of the Orange County Cancer Surveillance Program.

The study found that in 1989, cancer affected 337 of every 100,000 residents statewide, compared to 377 nationwide. Orange County's rate of 353 per 100,000 residents was third-highest in California, behind the 13-county Sacramento region, which posted the top rate of 364, and the five-county Bay Area, where the rate was 357.

Anton-Culver and state and local officials discussed the findings Friday at the California Tumor Registries Cancer Conference at the Red Lion Inn in Costa Mesa.

The high rate of breast cancer in Orange County--more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents in 1989--may be influenced by economics and race.

Although scientists aren't sure why, women with the highest risk of cancer are Anglo, eat a high-fat diet low in fiber, and become pregnant for the first time later in life or never become pregnant.

"With respect to breast cancer," said Anton-Culver, "Orange County is a high socioeconomic county compared to other counties. It has more whites than other counties. White women in this county have their children later. Also the diet may have something to do with it. . . ."

Last September, an American Cancer Society report predicted that Orange County women this year will contract breast cancer at a higher rate than anywhere else in the state.

Among men, prostate cancer is now the highest-incidence cancer in Orange County.

". . .Because of the availability of health care here more than in other counties, I think it may have something to do with the diagnosis itself," said Anton-Culver. "More men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in this county because of the availability of health care."

Anton-Culver did not speculate about reasons for the high incidence of cervical cancer among Latino women, or skin cancer in Orange County, which are not new developments.

Officials said it was too soon for the depletion of the Earth's ozone layer to have a noticeable effect on skin cancer rates here.

Cervical cancer, meanwhile, has become a special target of health professionals.

Last year, for example, the federal Centers for Disease Control gave California $15 million to target cervical cancer detection and early intervention, and most of the money has been distributed through grants to outreach programs in Orange County and elsewhere, state officials said.

And concerned that cervical cancer rates for Orange County Latinas are twice those of Anglo women and that breast cancer is found at a later stage among Latinas, eight UCI and UCLA researchers last year began researching Latino attitudes toward cancer and cancer screening with a $1.2-million National Cancer Institute grant.

Of special interest, health officials said, are the cancer rates among Asians and Pacific Islanders, who have the lowest cancer rates.

John L. Young, chief of the California Department of Health Services' cancer surveillance section, said Orange County's second-generation Vietnamese community is beginning to experience a change in the types of cancer experienced most often from those more common in Asia than those in the United States.

Vietnamese in Asia suffer more from liver and stomach cancers. However, in the United States, breast and cervical cancer are more prevalent, officials said.

"As populations migrate," said Young, "over time they tend to take on the characteristics of the area to which they migrated. . . . What we have here are populations in transition."

Changes in diet, occupations and lifestyle among second and third generations born here are probably important factors, officials said.

Between 1988 and 1989, overall cancer rates declined in California, but there was no similar drop nationally, said Young.

"We'd like to say we're leading the way" in combatting cancer, Young said. "But it's probably a temporary blip."

Molly Joel Coye, director of the California Department of Health Services, said it will take more research to determine why California has such a good showing, but officials suspect that the state's ethnic diversity is a major factor, since Latinos and Asian-Americans--who together make up 37% of the state's population--are less likely to develop cancer than either blacks or whites.

Blacks have the highest cancer rate in the United States and in California, with one out of four black males expected to develop cancer during their lives. Officials attributed this partly to a high rate of cigarette smoking among black men and a subsequent high rate of lung cancer.

Based on an Orange County model, cancer rates are computed by the California Cancer Surveillance Program, which tracks all cancer cases and deaths in the state.

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