Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.
“I don’t have to worry about breast cancer.”
I hear that a lot from Latina women, unfortunately. They see statistics on how Latinas don’t get breast cancer nearly as often as black or white women.
They need to know: Breast cancer is the No. 1 Latina cancer killer.
Latinas are 20% more likely to die of breast cancer than white women diagnosed at similar ages and stages. Critical cultural beliefs continue to interfere with Latinas’ approach to cancer screening and early detection. Latinas still greatly fear breast cancer and don’t think there’s anything they can do to prevent it, so they put off screening. Latina moms take care of others first. Few Latinas recognize breast cancer often progresses slowly enough to be detected and treated. And even if Latinas are screened, they are more likely to delay/miss follow-up appointments and start treatment later once cancer is confirmed—leading to worse cancer outcomes.
But Latinas also need to know: Breast cancer doesn’t have to kill.
Prevention is the key, and timely screening, diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up care are critical if Latinas are to survive cancer and sustain a good quality of life.
That’s why my Institute for Health Promotion Research at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, in partnership with the Cancer Therapy and Research Center and agencies like Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the Lance Armstrong Foundation, is doing research that engages the community to help them make better health choices and break down cancer barriers.
My team has developed bilingual materials to teach Latinas how to best reduce their cancer risk, obtain needed screening and reduce fears.
We also have made it a vital component of our operations to utilize culturally sensitive patient navigators and promotoras, community health workers who help Latinas navigate the complex world of cancer care.
For example, when Maria Gloria Sanchez of San Antonio was diagnosed with breast cancer, our promotora/navigator, Guadalupe Cornejo, contacted her to offer help filling out medical forms, making doctor’s appointment, arranging for transportation for treatment and providing emotional support. Today, Sanchez is cancer free, but when she needs help, she still turns to Cornejo—who is happy to make house calls. Watch Cornejo in action here.
We even developed a manual with a step-by-step guide so health care providers across the nation can implement their own navigation services for Latinos. Check out the manual in English or Spanish here.
Meanwhile, our Health Science Center’s Cancer Therapy & Research Center’s breast clinic offers a multi-specialty team focusing on breast diseases. With surgeons, radiologists, genetic counselors, prevention experts, medical oncologists, pathologists and social workers all in the same building, we make it easy for a woman to stay in one place and see anybody she needs.
Efforts like these are critical given the surging Latino population and the burden of health care costs as young Latinos age.
Follow our efforts at our blog and together we can help Latinas beat breast cancer!
Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez, a foremost expert in cancer health disparities research at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, has made great strides to reduce Latina breast cancer, increase screening rates and more.