THE unhealthy lifestyles of white Scots means they are twice as likely to develop some cancers than ethnic minorities living in the same country.
Shocking new research has found that rates of cancers – including lung, colorectal, breast and prostate – were significantly lower among Pakistani, Indian and Chinese people who live in Scotland.
Researchers at Edinburgh University say key factors include an unhealthy Scottish diet, higher smoking rates and white women becoming mothers relatively late and then having fewer children.
Researchers say they hope that the findings will inform public health policy on cancer care, prevention and screening.
Professor Raj Bhopal, of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Population Health Sciences, said that White Scots are exposed to more cancer risk factors than other ethnic groups.
He said: “In Scotland there is a lot of cancer in the general population and it is probably to do with the fact that white Scottish people have more of the risks.
“In lung cancer there are higher rates of smoking within the white Scottish population, as other ethnic groups do not smoke as much.
“There is a vast difference in colorectal cancer rates, the Pakistani population has 40% of the Scottish rate, less than half.
“One reason for this is that Pakistanis do not eat as much processed meat as white Scottish people and tend to eat a lot more fresh meat.
“Pakistani babies for example are weaned with fresh meat, they do not give processed meat to babies, which contain additives and high levels of salt.”
Prof Bhopal said breast cancer was more commonly found in “relatively well-off women” in Scotland, with white Scottish women having a rate ratio of 100 compared to 86.5 in the Indian population and 62.2 in the Pakistani community.
“Rates of breast cancer are lower in Pakistan women. Having babies earlier in life, having lots of babies and breastfeeding babies are behaviours still common in the Pakistani population,” he said.
“But interestingly these behaviours have largely gone in Indian woman living in Scotland, as they have conformed more to Scottish White behaviour.”
The study is the first study of its kind to compare cancer rates using figures from the NHS and the Scottish Cancer Registry with information on ethnic groups from the 2001 Scottish Census.
The study compares rates of cancer among white people – given the statistical “value” of 100 – with ethnic minorities.
The rate of all cancers for Indian people is 45.9 for men and 41.2 for women, and 57.6 for Chinese men.
For lung cancer, the lowest rate of the disease is among Pakistanis living in Scotland – 45.0 in men and 53.5 in women.
White Britons fare better than their Scottish counterparts at 87.6 for men and 87.3 for women.
Professor Bhopal said: “Cancer rates in migrants and their children tend to become similar to those in the local population. Despite their long residence in Scotland, however, ethnic minority groups have lower rates of cancer than the White Scots.
“There is much to learn here that could benefit the whole population, which could improve everyone’s health.”