Originally published in LatinTRENDS Magazine
By Daisy Cabrera
October marks National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and it’s time to talk about this deadly disease. Breast cancer is the most common cancer, and the leading cause of cancer death among Latinas. Latinas tend to be diagnosed with more advanced breast cancers. Although breast cancer is not preventable, there are steps you can take to lower your risk. We spoke with Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley, Chief Medical Officer of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and board certified obstetrician-gynecologist. As a leading healthcare provider to women across the country, the nonprofit organization provides up-to-date, expert information and supportive, confidential care.
Why is breast cancer prevalent in the Latina population?
Latinas in the U.S. face more barriers to accessing health care, are less likely to get preventive screenings, are more likely to be diagnosed at later stages, and are more likely to experience worse health outcomes when it comes to breast cancer. A recent national Planned Parenthood survey showed that when asked what prevented Latinas from getting checked for breast cancer, the following barriers played a role: 40% said the cost of the test, 26% said time to go to the doctor, 22% said the distance to the doctor’s office, 25% said fear of the test, and 32% said fear of the test results.
Is breast cancer linked to other gynecological cancers?
Certain types of breast cancer are linked with other types of cancer. The most well studied types are related to the BRCA gene, which is associated with a hereditary type of breast cancer, and can lead to an increased risk of ovarian cancer. There are other hereditary types of breast cancer that are linked with other diseases such as brain cancer, leukemia and colon cancer.
How important are breast self-examinations and mammograms?
Finding breast cancer at its earliest stages is important to improve survival and the chances of living a long, healthy life. Be aware of how your breasts normally look and feel. Simply looking at, touching, and feeling your breasts from time to time will help you notice any changes. Talk to your health care provider if you have any concerns about changes in the look, shape, or texture of your breasts, or nipple discharge, or if there is breast cancer or other types of cancer in your family history. You and your health care provider can decide together whether getting a mammogram is right for you. Clinical breast exams are recommended every one to three years for most women in their 20s and 30s. Mammograms are recommended yearly for women starting at age 40 and may be suggested sooner if a woman has a history of breast cancer or has abnormalities discovered during a clinical exam.
What are some common misconceptions about mammograms?
There are many misconceptions about mammograms: that they are very painful, or they take a long time, or are only necessary for older women. In terms of discomfort, you will feel some pressure. Pressing your breast in this way helps spread out the breast tissue and prevents movement. It also helps get a sharper image of the breast tissue. The compression for each breast only lasts a few seconds — the overall procedure takes about 15 minutes. Most women feel uncomfortable when their breasts are being pressed. Some women find it painful. But the discomfort only lasts a few seconds each time. Some women may also feel sore after a mammogram.
What happens if the mammogram finds an abnormality?
Not all abnormal results are breast cancer. Your health provider will tell you what other tests you might need, including another mammogram or another test. There are several other diagnostic tools to confirm mammogram results including: biopsy, core-needle biopsy, and ultrasound.
If you can’t afford a mammogram, what local resources are available?
Planned Parenthood provides affordable breast cancer screenings regardless of whether or not you have health insurance. Our health centers provide clinical breast exams and refer patients to other facilities for mammograms based on breast exams, age, and/or family history. If an abnormality is found during a clinical breast exam, our health centers will help patients get the follow-up care they need from specialists. Understanding the importance of breast health, and early detection is key to battling breast cancer. The disease doesn’t discriminate, and Latina celebrity survivors include Daniela Romo, Ana María Polo, Adamari López, Angélica María, Alejandra Guzmán, and Bárbara Mori. Talk to your medical provider about breast cancer, share your family history of cancer, and visit www.plannedparenthood.org for more information.
*Editor’s note: former LatinTRENDS digital editor Shelley Mendoza is also a breast cancer survivor.