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Asian American and Pacific Islander Women

To get through the hardest journey we need take only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping.

— Chinese proverb

The term, “Asian American” encompasses many groups: Asian Indian, Bangladeshi, Bhutanese, Burmese, Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Hmong, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Malayan, Mien, Nepalese, Pakistani, Sri Lanka, Thai, Vietnamese, and several others. “Pacific Islanders” refers to people having origins or ancestors from Hawaii, Guam, Samoa and other Pacific Islands. Each ethnicity can be very different from the next, but research on cancer incidence has tended to combine many of these groups.

There are approximately 117,672 Asian Americans living in North Carolina (2000, U.S. Census). The numbers are increasing. The Asian American population more than doubled between 1990 and 2000 in North Carolina.

What is the risk of breast cancer for Asian American women?
The common belief that cancer is relatively rare among Asian Americans is untrue. Cancer has been the number one killer of Asian American women since 1980.

Although Asian American women do not get breast cancer as often as most other ethnic groups in the United States, they do get it more frequently than their counterparts in Asian countries, who have the lowest overall breast cancer rates in the world. When Asian women migrate to the United States, their risk of developing breast cancer increases up to six times. Asian immigrant women living in the United States for as little as a decade have an 80 percent higher risk of developing breast cancer than new immigrants. Breast cancer incidence in Japanese American women living in the United States, for example, is approaching that of white women.

The incidence of breast cancer for Asian American women is increasing at a faster rate than for white women. For some subgroups such as Filipino Americans and Japanese Americans, the leading cause of cancer death is breast cancer.

Native Hawaiian women have the second highest rate of breast cancer of all ethnicities (whites have the highest). They also have the third highest rate of dying from breast cancer, and it is increasing.

What special challenges do Asian American women face?
Catching breast cancer early offers the best chance for survival, but among the ethnic groups in this country, Asian American/Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian women are the least likely to have ever had a mammogram. Studies have also found that young Asian women have lower participation in breast self-examination than other racial groups.

  • If you are age 40 or above, get regular mammograms and breast exams (talk to your health care provider about how often). Spread the word to women you know to do the same.
  • If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, think about seeking treatment from one of the three Comprehensive Cancer Centers in North Carolina or from another large cancer center. See our listing of North Carolina Hospitals and Cancer Centers).
  • If you need help paying for mammograms or treatment, see Financial and Other Assistance.
  • Be an advocate for your health care. If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, become informed about your diagnosis, treatment, and long-term follow-up care. Participate in making decisions about your care. Use this Resource Directory to help you learn more about your options and to find additional resources for more information.
  • Communicate as much and as openly as possible with your health care providers. If you are not comfortable talking openly with a provider, look for one you can trust.
  • Think about joining an Asian-American breast cancer advocacy organization (See Resources below).



Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum

Advocates to improve health status of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. Includes the Asian and Pacific Islander National Cancer Survivors’ Network,, an advocacy/survivors’ group.

Health Awareness Program for Immigrants in Wake County (Raleigh, NC)

This program from Boat People SOS, Inc., helps Vietnamese uninsured and underinsured women with breast health education, early detection and mammograms. (2006 Komen NC Triangle Affiliate Grantee)

Intercultural Cancer Council

Supports research to eliminate the unequal burden of cancer among racial and ethnic minorities and medically underserved populations in the United States. Offers fact sheets about Asian Americans and cancer.

National Asian Women’s Health Organization

Advocates for underserved women. Publications on women’s health available.

National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship

Offers the Cancer Survivor’s Toolbox, free audiotapes developed by oncology professionals and cancer survivors, that focuses on six key skills to help survivors, family members and caregivers. Available in Chinese.

Office of Minority Health Resource Center

Call the toll-free number to order the free “Breast Cancer Resource Guide for Minority Women.” Also available online at

Books and More

Three Phases of Struggle: A Personal Insight into the Cure, by Palvinder Dhanjal (2002). Author was a student when she was diagnosed with cancer. She gives insight into problems young Asian women face when dealing with the disease.

Web Sites

Asian and Pacific Islander Cancer Listserv
API Cancer is an e-mail discussion list for Asian and Pacific Islander cancer survivors, families and friends, healthcare providers, researchers, and others. Shares news about cancer research, events, funding opportunities, general cancer issues, and provides an open forum for members to interact.

Asian Pacific Islanders Women’s Health
Has translations in several languages about breast cancer and cervical cancer screening.

Breast Cancer Resources for Asian American/Pacific Islander Women
Includes a page of information and resources about breast cancer in Asian American women from the National Women’s Health Information Center.

Medline Plus: Asian American Health
Covers news, nutrition, screening, research, organizations, statistics and other issues specific to Asian Americans.



Breast Cancer Resource Directory of North Carolina | Third Edition 2006 - 2007

Copyright 2006, Jamie Konarski Davidson, Women Helping Women, Elizabeth Mahanna, North Carolina Institute for Public Health, and UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. Portions of the Breast Cancer Resource Directory of North Carolina may be copied without permission for educational purposes only. The Breast Cancer Resource Directory of North Carolina is designed for educational purposes only and is not engaged in rendering medical advice or professional services. The information provided through the Breast Cancer Resource Directory of North Carolina should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or a disease. It is not a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, you should consult your healthcare provider.

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