Knowledge Gap Contributing to Rise in Korean American Cancer Rate


Lack of knowledge about cancer screening is contributing to a rising rate of cancer in Korean Americans, their leading cause of death.  Kyeung Mi Oh, a professor at George Mason University School of Nursing, conducted a study that finds that this cause surpasses any other cause like fatalistic beliefs or lack of health insurance.  Colorectal Cancer Screening Knowledge, Beliefs and Practices of Korean Americans, done with Professor Gary Kreps, chair of Mason’s Department of Communication and director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication, tries to avoid some of the methodological mistakes made when studying Asian American communities.

Kreps says that Korean Americans are misunderstood and understudied compared to other Asian American groups.  Moreover, he points out that the approach of surveying only Asian Americans who are comfortable in English is inaccurate.  “We get a rosier picture of what’s going on out there,” says Kreps.  Oh worked with local Korean American community groups and had recent immigrants write answers in Korean.

Oh says many Korean Americans are not aware about the importance of screening.  “Until they have symptoms, they really aren’t concerned.  They don’t think screening is necessary.”  Her study focus on colon cancer screening, whose rates have jumped in the Korean American community.   Only half of those surveyed knew about colonoscopies, which can detect cancer early enough to stop it.  This is in contrast to my Filipino American parents, who have had this procedure done a number of times at the recommended intervals and ages.

Cancer is personal to us on 8asians as cancer has taken some of our family.  Many Asian Americans are reluctant to talk about cancer, but cancer screening also helped my father survive prostate cancer, finding it early enough to have it eliminated with minimal problems.  It’s also a very personal for Oh, whose father died of cancer. “We should educate immigrants about the benefit of screening early for cancer and the problem of not doing it,” says Oh. “They should be aware of why it is important to have screenings and regular checkups.”

(photo credit: TipsTimes via Creative Commons License 2.0)

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About Jeff

Jeff lives in Silicon Valley, and attempts to juggle marriage, fatherhood, computer systems research, running, and writing.
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