Studies on cancer in migrants are informative about the relative influence of environmental and genetic factors on cancer risk. This study investigates trends in incidence from colorectal, lung, breast and prostate cancer in England among South Asians and examines the influence of deprivation, a key environmental exposure. South Asian ethnicity was assigned to patients recorded in the population-based National Cancer Registry of England during 1986-2004, using the computerized algorithm SANGRA: South Asian Names and Groups Recognition Algorithm. Population denominators were derived from population censuses. Multivariable flexible (splines) Poisson models were used to estimate trends and socioeconomic differentials in incidence in South Asians compared to non-South Asians. Overall, age-adjusted cancer incidence in South Asians was half that in non-South Asians but rose over time. Cancer-specific incidence trends and patterns by age and deprivation differed widely between the two ethnic groups. In contrast to non-South Asians, lung cancer incidence in South Asians did not fall. Colorectal and breast cancer incidence rose in both groups, more steeply in South Asians though remaining less common than in non-South Asians. The deprivation gaps in cancer-specific incidence were much less marked among South Asians, explaining some of the ethnic differences in overall incidence. Although still lower than in non-South Asians, cancer incidence is rising in South Asians, supporting the concept of transition in cancer incidence among South Asians living in England. Although these trends vary by cancer, they have important implications for both prevention and anticipating health-care demand.
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