Must-read, not just for Asian American women, but for all minority diaspora: “Cancer from the Kitchen?”
Take breast cancer. One puzzle has been that most women living in Asia have low rates of breast cancer, but ethnic Asian women born and raised in the United States don’t enjoy that benefit. At the symposium, Dr. Alisan Goldfarb, a surgeon specializing in breast cancer, pointed to a chart showing breast cancer rates by ethnicity.
“If an Asian woman moves to New York, her daughters will be in this column,” she said, pointing to “whites.” “It is something to do with the environment.”
What’s happening? One theory starts with the well-known fact that women with more lifetime menstrual cycles are at greater risk for breast cancer, because they’re exposed to more estrogen. For example, a woman who began menstruating before 12 has a 30 percent greater risk of breast cancer than one who began at 15 or later.
It’s also well established that Western women are beginning puberty earlier, and going through menopause later. Dr. Maida Galvez, a pediatrician who runs Mount Sinai’s pediatric environmental health specialty unit, told the symposium that American girls in the year 1800 had their first period, on average, at about age 17. By 1900 that had dropped to 14. Now it is 12.
A number of studies, mostly in animals, have linked early puberty to exposure to pesticides, P.C.B.’s and other chemicals. One class of chemicals that creates concern — although the evidence is not definitive — is endocrine disruptors, which are often similar to estrogen and may fool the body into setting off hormonal changes. This used to be a fringe theory, but it is now being treated with great seriousness by the Endocrine Society, the professional association of hormone specialists in the United States.
These endocrine disruptors are found in everything from certain plastics to various cosmetics. “There’s a ton of stuff around that has estrogenic material in it,” Dr. Goldfarb said. “There’s makeup that you rub into your skin for a youthful appearance that is really estrogen.”
Remember when Ward Connerly was trying to push for census data completely devoid of race with California Proposition 54? Thank goodness that didn’t pass, or we wouldn’t have been able to connect the dots on medical trends rooted in national origins and immigration patterns.
Let’s face it. Justice is not color-blind. Some of that ethnic and race-based data is crucial to the way our government works. Kevin Nguyen, the pro-Prop. 54 speaker at an on-campus debate, attested that the government does very little with the race-based data it currently has. However, studies have shown, and numerous organizations agree, that social departments like public safety, health care and education actually benefit from the ethnic information that census results provide.
Although the initiative made an exception for the collection of data for medical reasons, it had its limitations. It allowed only doctors to keep racial or ethnic data on their patients, and disallowed the use of population data in disease-prevention research.
For instance, what if a Latina woman is found unconscious by a stranger and is rushed in to an emergency room where she is not on file? If the woman cannot speak for herself, wouldn’t it be helpful to know that Latinos are at a higher risk for complications due to diabetes? The doctor would know to be careful about using medication and procedures known to be harmful to diabetic patients. This information would be out-of-date or even unavailable if Prop. 54 was passed.
And hey! I wrote that back in 2003: “Indecent proposal: ‘discrimination without the paper trail’.” Foreshadowing much?
Just FYI, I hope that most things will never be color-blind.