NBC Latino

Young Latinas teach cancer awareness to older generation

Younger generations can be instrumental in helping older Latinas get regular screenings for cancer.

About four years ago, Cinthya Rodriguez, 18, prompted her mother to get a breast cancer screening after her aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer. Since then, she’s made an effort to accompany her mother whenever she has a doctor’s appointment.

“I go as much as I can because she says she’s more comfortable when I accompany her,” she says. Rodriguez tries to attend her aunt’s appointments as well. She feels can help bridge language barriers because her mother and aunt are not completely fluent in English.

Like many Latinas daughters, Rodriguez believes she has a sense of responsibility when it comes to her mother’s health care. “A daughter’s role is to talk about it with their moms because it’s taboo with older women,” she says.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Latinas. Although Latinas have lower breast cancer rates than white women, they are more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage, when the cancer is more advanced and harder to treat. Latinas also have the highest rates of cervical cancer of all groups of women and are more likely to die from it than non-Hispanic whites. The lack of screening is a significant factor since 6 in 10 cervical cancers occur in women who have never received a Pap test or have not been tested in the past five years.

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Second generation daughters like Rodriguez may be key in creating awareness and helping bridge this health disparity.

Sylvia Fraser, a resident nurse at St. Anthony’s Hospital in Chicago, sees a lot of Latina daughters taking a very active role in their mothers’ health care. She says many daughters attend appointments to translate and provide support.

“Intervention has to do with the level of education,” Fraser says. Many women are not aware that they should have yearly exams, for instance.

“The newer generation will really change that,” she says.

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Another possible cultural barrier, especially for first generation Latinas, is a lack of body consciousness. Fraser points out that older generations may feel uncomfortable examining themselves or exposing their bodies during appointments, which may prevent them from getting screened or noticing any changes. She says some of her patients have nipple retractions but don’t notice because they never look at their breasts.

Jeanette Santana, a Latino program manager Gilda’s Club Chicago, a free cancer support community, notices another cultural issue among the Latinas who take part in her programming. She’s noticed that many women, especially those who are old-fashioned, sometimes prefer not knowing if have a health problem or believe that surgery may actually spread the cancer.

Dr. Mariana Chavez MacGregor, assistant professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and breast cancer doctor, says that second generation Latinas are more likely to get screenings than first generation immigrants. She sees this as a part of the process of acculturation. Newer generations generally have more access to information with the availability of magazines, internet, and social media. Facebook campaigns, for instance, can create cancer awareness. Young women can then share this information with the women in their lives.

MacGregor also believes that sharing the right message about treatment and prevention, such as avoiding obesity and limiting alcohol, can also save lives in older generations.

“Second generation Hispanics and Latinas have a great influence disseminating this knowledge to their mothers,” she says.

Researchers have also noticed the value of mother-daughter relationships in reducing health disparities among low-income populations. They’ve also found that daughters are more likely to be exposed to various educational opportunities, so they may be able to provide important health information.

In such a family-oriented culture, family involvement may be critical in getting Latinas screened and treated.

“If they didn’t have support from their family, they wouldn’t do it,” Santana says.