Ethnicity and Disease Risk: What’s the Connection?

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Published on April 21, 2021

Ethnicity and Disease Risk: What’s the Connection?

Photo of an ethnically diverse group of people having a good time outdoorsThere are many factors that can increase your risk of disease. Some are inherited while others are related to your lifestyle habits, behaviors and customs. Where you live, your socioeconomic status and your access to quality healthcare can also affect your disease risk.

Although any of these variables can be impacted in part by your ethnic background, it doesn't mean you are automatically at a high risk of specific diseases based solely on your race or ethnicity. But you should talk to your doctor about screenings you may need and steps you can take to stay healthier, especially if your ethnic background puts you at a higher risk of developing a specific disease.

Dr. Jennifer Lee, family medicine physician at PIH Health, emphasizes that “while you can’t control certain risk factors, such as where and how you live, you can still reduce your overall disease risk by making better lifestyle choices. These can include eating healthy, exercising, maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking.”

Cardiovascular Disease

Some ethnicities face a greater risk of cardiovascular disease than others, especially non-Hispanic black persons. This is partly because of a higher incidence of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. According to the CDC:

  • Black adults are more likely to have high blood pressure than other ethnicities.
  • Hispanic and black adults are more likely to have cardiovascular risk factors such as obesity and diabetes.
  • Black adults are almost twice as likely as white adults to have a stroke and are more likely to die from it. They are also more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than other ethnicities.

Breast Cancer

Your chance of getting breast cancer or dying from it may be influenced by your ethnic background. According to the Susan G. Komen Foundation:

  • White and black women are more likely to get breast cancer than Asian/Pacific Islander or Hispanic women.
  • Younger black women (under age 40) are more likely to get breast cancer than white women, but that trend is reversed in older women (ages 60-84).
  • Hispanic women are more likely to be diagnosed with late-stage cancers.
  • Recent immigrants, such as Asian women, tend to have a lower risk of breast cancer than other ethnicities, but their risk increases as they adopt more Western practices.

Colon Cancer

There are differences in both diagnosis and death rates of colorectal cancer among ethnicities, but early screenings greatly improve outcomes. According to the American Cancer Society® and the CDC:

  • Black males and females have a higher risk of developing colon cancer and a lower survival rate than other ethnicities.
  • Jews of European descent have one of the highest risks of developing colon cancer compared to any ethnicity worldwide.
  • Hispanics are less likely to be screened for colon cancer than other ethnicities. This makes it more likely that colorectal cancer won't be caught early.

It is a good idea to be proactive about your own health and wellness, especially when you know of specific diseases you may be more at risk of developing. In addition to making the right lifestyle choices, it is also important not to delay regular tests and physical examinations with your doctor. These can detect the onset of some serious medical conditions that would be better treated or controlled early in their development. Learn more at

If you are looking for a doctor in or near your area, visit

The information in Healthy Living Online is for educational purposes only.  It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.  The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation, or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.