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Living in the UK makes South Asians unhealthier

Study shows that doctors and South Asian patients are unaware of their increased risk of disease.

Jo Carlowe

Monday, 04 June 2007

People from South Asia may develop a greater risk of disease when they live in the UK, claim researchers.

In a review in the June issue of the Journal of The Royal Society of Medicine co-author Dr Punam Mangtani, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, warned that this increased risk was not matched by increased awareness by patients or health professionals.

She said this lack of awareness could mean that patients were missing out on ways to prevent disease or receive early treatment.

The UK's South Asian population (whose families originate from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or India) is about 4% of the total population and the largest ethnic minority. South Asians generally have a lower incidence of cancer than the general population - around 68% lower in men and 48% lower in women. But cancer rates of South Asians in England, though still lower than rates in the rest of the English population, are higher than rates in the Indian Subcontinent.

This is thought to be due to differences such as smoking incidence, diet and the adoption of a more sedentary lifestyle. Breast cancer is rising in South Asians and is the most common malignancy among female South Asians. Lung cancer is the most common cancer among South Asian men and its incidence is increasing. In relation to all types of cancer, the longer a migrant from South Asia has been in England, the greater their risk of developing some form of the disease.

"GPs should not discount cancer in this group. Just because a patient is not at risk - it does not mean that they do not have it," Dr Mangtani told OnMedica.

She said South Asian patients were among the groups less likely to access smoking cessation clinics and breast and cervical screening - and she urged GPs to try to promote these areas to these patients.

And she said both patients and health professionals were sometimes unaware that facilities do exist to aid patients from ethnic minority groups. For example, both Macmillan and Cancer Backup offer translation services.

In their review, Dr Mangtani and her colleague Dr Justin Zaman argued that, although they concentrated on cancer, there would be other examples of increased disease rates where, with increased time since migration, disease patterns start to resemble those of the indigenous population.

"We have known about these shifting disease patterns for over ten years but there needs to be better awareness among these communities and better access to appropriate preventative and treatment services," they said.

Dr Mangtani added: "Studies are now showing that because the disease is not expected in these groups, patients are at risk of being overlooked when it comes to screening and getting access to health information."

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