Wednesday, May 5, 2010

This Cinco de Mayo, Hispanic-Americans should consider how their heritage can affect their health

As I take a moment to recognize that Hispanics in the Philadelphia area, Allentown, Lancaster and elsewhere across Pennsylvania celebrate their shared heritage on Cinco de Mayo, I feel it is appropriate to take a look at the shared health conditions and risk factors that are a part of being Hispanic.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the top three causes for death among Hispanics are heart disease, cancer and unintentional injuries such as those suffered in the workplace.

The good news is many of these risks can be reduced through proper knowledge and some life-style changes. Look at cancer. Hispanics have lower survival rates than other ethnicities for most forms of cancers. That’s in part because of language and cultural barriers, employment in jobs that often do not provide health insurance, and a lack of access to preventive care and to primary care providers.

There are basic things that can be done: eliminate risk factors such as the use of tobacco and alcohol; schedule regular medical checkups and screenings; initiate regular self-examination; develop an awareness of cancer warning signs; and seek prompt medical attention when cancer is suspected. Good nutrition and exercise also are important.

Also, cancer can carry warning signs, such as a sore that doesn’t heal, a lump or thickening anywhere on the body, any unusual bleeding or discharge including in the stool, any change in a mole or a wart, persistent indigestion or difficulty swallowing, and persistent hoarseness or coughing.

While Cinco de Mayo is an ideal time to celebrate the heritage and uniqueness of Mexican culture, it can also serve as a springboard for improved health and wellness. Some simple steps such as watching your diet, seeing your doctor regularly for preventive screenings and becoming more active can begin to close the gap on some of the health disparities that affect Hispanics. Doing so will help ensure that many Hispanic-American families have happy and healthful Cinco de Mayo celebrations for years to come.

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