What Hispanic women need to know about breast cancer
Talking about breast cancer is one of the first steps in making sure it’s found early – when it’s at its most curable stage. According to the American Cancer Society, death rates from breast cancer have declined due to earlier detection through screening, increased awareness and improved treatment.
For Hispanic women, breast cancer rates are lower than in other races and ethnicities. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the bad news is that breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Hispanic women. There are a few theories about why that is. For example, Hispanic women:
- Often don’t find their breast cancer until it is at a more advanced stage when treatments are less successful.
- Have different access to treatment and lower rates of mammograms.
- Sometimes get a genetically different, more aggressive form of breast cancer.
So what does that mean? Health experts say there needs to be more education in Hispanic communities about breast cancer and the importance of early and regular screening. And it means there also needs to be improved access to affordable (or free) mammograms and outstanding care for all women – including those in underrepresented communities.
If Hispanic women truly do get cancers that are genetically different and more aggressive, it’s even more important for them to get regular screening. There is also evidence that Hispanic women get breast cancer at an earlier age than Caucasian women do, so there may be value in Hispanic women starting screening at an earlier age.
Dr. Jorge Cuevas, a clinical therapist at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, says that a significant issue with Hispanic women is that they almost always relegate their health needs to the needs of their children and older relatives.
“They tend to ignore early signs or postpone recommended follow-ups because they are so busy being caregivers to others but themselves,” he says.
According to a study published in the American Cancer Society’s journal, Cancer, research should explore clinical and biological differences in Hispanic women and consider different strategies for prevention and treatment.
So what can you do?
Dr. Cuevas says it’s important to encourage friends to have regular mammograms and perform monthly breast self-exams and make sure that breasts and breast cancer are not taboo words.
“Talk to your mothers and grandmothers and help them stay informed about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer,” he says. “Knowledge can be a fabulous tool for preventing and treating all sorts of disease – including breast cancer.”
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