Asian American Cancer Disparities: The Potential Effects of Model Minority Health Stereotypes

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Racial/ethnic disparities exist in health care that are not fully explained by differences in access to care, clinical appropriateness, or patient preferences (Smedley, Stith, & Nelson, 2002). An important health disparity that exists within the Asian American population is in preventive cancer screenings. The rates of physicians recommending cancer screening among Asian Americans are disproportionately lower than justified by the relatively small ethnic group differences in cancer and mortality rates (U.S. Cancer Statistics Working Group, 2012). Despite cancer being the leading cause of death for Asian Americans, (National Center for Health Statistics, 2011) screening rates for cervical and breast cancer in Asian American women, and colorectal cancer in Asian American women and men are well below those of any other ethnic group (King, 2012; U.S. Cancer Statistics Working Group, 2012). In this article, we present a conceptual model that seeks to explain a factor in these lower screening rates. We review and incorporate in our model established mechanisms in the literature including physician-patient communication, patient variables, and physician variables. We also propose a new mechanism that may be specific to the Asian American population—the impact of the model minority myth and how that may translate into positive health stereotypes. These positive implicit or explicit health stereotypes can interact with time pressure and limited information to influence physician decision making and cancer screening recommendations. Suggestions are offered for testing this model including using the Implicit Association Test and the Error Choice technique.

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