By Myra Guevara, Research Intern
As the month of October winds down and November opens up with contentious midterm elections, the talk and buzz on the web and in newspapers has been immigration reform, unemployment rates and the troubled economy. However, it is still October and that means it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
An estimated 14,000 cases of breast cancer were diagnosed in U.S. Hispanic women in 2009, with more than 2,200 deaths, making breast cancer the leading cause of cancer death among Latina women in the U.S.
That is 2,200 mothers, daughters, life partners, aunts, cousins, and grandmothers. This fact has more to do with the late diagnosis of breast cancer in Latina women than the susceptibility of Latinas to breast cancer.
Researchers at George Washington University found that regardless of insured status (private insurance company, government issued, or without insurance) African American and Hispanic women experienced greater delays in diagnosing breast cancer than Caucasian women. According to the study:
The number of days from abnormal screening to definitive diagnosis for those with private insurance was 15.9 days for white women, 27.1 days for black women and 51.4 days for Hispanic women.
The numbers become more grim for women without insurance.
Death from breast cancer is often preventable:
Health experts agree that mammography and breast self-exams are two of the best ways to detect breast cancer early. Studies show, however, that Latinas often fail to take advantage of such preventative measures. Cultural and generational beliefs, including the perception that cancer equals death, often interfere with Latinas seeking treatment.
A recent literature review has been published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine entitled: The relevance of fatalism in the study of Latina’s cancer screening behavior. The study was conducted by Karl Espinosa de los Monteros and Linda Gallo from San Diego State University. The purpose of the study was to determine to what extent fatalism (the notion that cancer is a death sentence) plays a role in Latina women’s decision to participate in breast, cervical and colorectal cancer screening relative to other factors such as low-socioeconomic status or limited access to health care access.
The researchers found that out of eleven studies, seven showed a negative relationship between fatalism and participation in cancer screening. In other words, women who believed that a cancer diagnosis was equivalent to a death sentence were less likely to go for cancer screenings.
The researchers call for more ‘culturally appropriate interventions’ to help Latinas understand that cancer is preventable, and treatable if caught in time, which starts with a screening.
However, they also caution against making causal relationships and blanket statements about Latinas fatalistic attitudes and lack of cancer screening. More research needs to be done on the role that socioeconomic status, education, access to health care, and immigration status play in Latina women’s decision to seek cancer screenings.
Whether or not their conclusions are sound, there is a need for increased cultural competency in the medical field and a better understanding of what drives Latina women, immigrant or not, to make decisions about their reproductive health. How can doctor’s address the fear of diagnosis? What other factors might be influencing the lack of screening? The ultimate goal is to reduce the number of preventable cancer deaths.
By Myra Guevara, Research Intern