Most Latina women presenting for care in the city hospitals, during my years as a navigator, did so with advanced breast cancers.
Few of the Latina women had a history of getting mammograms. Many had cancers that were more aggressive and harder to treat.
In speaking with Latina ladies, they shared language barriers, socio-economic reasons, lack of education, lack of awareness of breast cancer, and the need for annual screenings as reasons for not seeking care.
Other ladies gave cultural reasons, such as women touching themselves being a taboo. Others said fear kept them from coming for care…fear of disease, fear of the treatment, fear of the loss of their hair, breast, and femininity. Fear of the loss of a husband, or significant other was a major issue. Some feared that breast cancer was a punishment for something they did earlier in life.
Recent studies and statistics show that Latina women have lower breast cancer rates than white women. However, they are more likely than whites to be diagnosed at a later stage, when the cancer is more advanced and harder to treat.
Yet, even with early diagnosis, Latina women are more likely to have tumors that are larger and harder to treat than white women. They also seem to get breast cancer at younger ages. Researchers are not sure why these differences happen.
Despite increased breast cancer awareness outreach efforts in Latina communities the Nation Cancer Institute (NCI) reports that breast cancer is still the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Latina women in 2013.
In 2007, NCI reported that despite equal access to health care services, differences persist in the size, stage, and grade of breast cancer for Hispanic women compared with non-Hispanic white (NHW) women. The study compared 139 Latina women and 2,118 NHW women with breast cancer who were all established members of the Kaiser Permanente Colorado health plan. The Latina women were diagnosed at a younger age; at a later stage of disease; with larger, higher grade tumors; and with less treatable estrogen-and progesterone-negative tumors, reported the investigators led by Dr. A. Tyler Watlington at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.
“The results of this study confirm those of many previous studies that breast cancer presents differently in Latina women,” the researchers noted.
“Previous research has suggested that the differences may be due to socioeconomic factors, especially lack of or inadequate health insurance and less access to care among low-income Latina women. However, the current study shows that “these differences were apparent even among a group of Latina women with equal access to care and similar health care utilization,” researchers added.
Outreach in post secondary schools, that have large enrollments of young Latina women, is needed if we are going to reach Latina women when they are in their early 20’s and 30’S. We need to help them realize that early screenings offer them the best possible outcomes if a breast cancer found. We also need them to carry the message to older women in their Latina communities. These young women can be a powerful force in getting older Latina women to get screened.