Asian men’s health is a broad category. The population is varied—from all over the continent—and is here in New Jersey in large numbers. Our state has the third largest Asian population in the nation, surpassed only by California and Hawaii.
Although many health issues that affect men are general, there are a few issues that are of particular concern for Asians. Let’s examine what some of these are and what we can do for patients with these health concerns.
• Hepatitis B: Asians and Pacific Islanders make up 5% of the total population in the United States, but account for more than half of the country’s 862,000 cases of chronic hepatitis B, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most Americans are vaccinated against the disease as babies. But hepatitis B is more of a risk for those who’ve emigrated from Asia, which has a higher incidence of the disease. It is estimated that 60% of Asians living in the United States are foreign-born.
Without treatment, people with chronic hepatitis B infection can develop serious liver disease and damage, including cirrhosis and even cancer. Symptoms include jaundice, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, fatigue or dark urine color. But many of those infected are asymptomatic, so screening is important. We can now do a very simple blood test for the virus that causes the disease and for liver function abnormalities. There are a variety of effective anti-viral medications for hepatitis B.
• Diabetes: The disease caused by high blood sugar is common in the United States, but Asians are more prone to it because of a key genetic difference. In general, Asians secrete less insulin—the hormone that regulates blood sugar. Obesity is usually an indicator of diabetes in other groups, but thinner Asians might be diabetic.
Asians and Pacific Islanders are at greater risk of contracting diabetes or pre-diabetes, according to research by the Joslin Diabetes Center at Harvard University. The genetic factor is exacerbated by Western lifestyles that feature less walking and other exercise and diets that tend to be higher in fat, sugar and processed foods.
• Gastric (stomach) cancer: The cuisines of East Asian countries tend to rely on more salt, which increases stomach cancer risks. In Asia, there also is a higher incidence of helicobacter pylori, a type of bacteria that lives in the digestive tract. H pylori can cause ulcers, sores and infections that can lead to stomach cancer. Some Asian countries, notably China, Japan and Korea, use periodic endoscopies for screening. In the U.S. we don’t screen for gastric cancer but recommend endoscopies if a patient has stomach symptoms, especially if they are over 55 years of age.
Being mindful of these special challenges for Asian men is important as it allows us to better screen for disease in annual check-ups. Cultural competence leads to better health outcomes!
Yulong Yang, MD, is a board-certified internist and primary care doctor with an office in Englewood Cliffs. He provides preventive care and advanced diagnostics and treatment for all types of illnesses and is especially skilled in recognizing and treating conditions more prevalent in the Asian population. Dr. Yang speaks English, Japanese and Chinese (Mandarin).