Hispanic American/Latina women

The Hispanic population is the fastest-growing population and the largest minority group in the United States. Hispanic Americans make up approximately 12.5 percent of the U.S. population, and that number will increase to somewhere between 19 and 24 percent by 2050, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.

Cancer research in Hispanic/Latina populations has been hindered by a number of factors and thus may not be entirely correct. Also, data from national cancer registries may not be accurate for Hispanic American/Latina women because, until recently, cancer registries have not collected data specifically on this population.

What is the risk of breast cancer for Hispanic American/Latina women?

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the leading cause of cancer death among Hispanic American/Latina women. Although breast cancer is diagnosed about 30 percent less often among women of Hispanic origin, it is more often diagnosed at a later stage (when the disease is more advanced) than when found in non-Hispanic women. This is true even when access to health care is adequate. Hispanic/Latina females also have the highest rates of cervical cancer of any ethnic group, including whites. Both of these distressing statistics are related to Hispanic/Latina women not getting adequate screening with mammograms, clinical breast exams and Pap smears.

What special challenges do Hispanic/Latina women face?

Lack of access to health care is a major barrier to early detection and treatment of breast cancer and one that many Hispanic women face. More often than any other group, Hispanic Americans/Latinos have no regular source of health care.

A high proportion of Hispanic women are uninsured (about 30 percent). Uninsured Hispanic women with breast cancer are more than twice as likely as other women to be diagnosed with breast cancer in advanced stages. The disease is more difficult to treat successfully when it is diagnosed in its advanced stages, and survival rates are lower.

Hispanic/Latina women also face other barriers to health care, including difficulties with language, transportation, child care, immigration status and cultural differences.

What can Hispanic American/Latina women do?

Many health departments and large hospitals now have Spanish translators to help healthcare providers communicate with Spanish-speakers. If you need one, ask.

If you are age 40 or above, get regular mammograms and breast exams (talk to your health care provider about how often). Spread the word to women you know to do the same.

Be an advocate for your health care. If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, become informed about your diagnosis, treatment, and long-term follow-up care. Participate in making decisions about your care. Communicate as much and as openly as possible with your health care providers. If you are not comfortable talking openly with a provider, look for another provider that you can trust.