Health Magazine

Breast Cancer Differences in Latina Women

Posted on the 30 August 2012 by Jean Campbell

latinaRecent studies and statistics show that even though Latinas have lower breast cancer rates than white women, 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 do not know why these differences happen.

Despite increased breast cancer awareness outreach efforts in Latina communities since the Nation Cancer Institute (NCI) report in its Cancer Bulletin (vol. 4/no. 15, April 17, 2007), breast cancer is still the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Latina women in 2012.

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.

Author’s Note: During my years as a navigator, I met with several hundred Latina women with breast cancer. The women I met waited until their cancers were advanced before seeking care. Few had a history of getting mammograms. Many had cancers that were more aggressive and harder to treat.

In speaking with the ladies, they shared 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.

Some feared that breast cancer was a punishment for something they did earlier in life.

Increased outreach in Latina communities, organizations, churches, and print and digital media is needed if we are going to reach Latina women and help them realize that early screenings offer the best possible outcomes if a cancer is found.

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