In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month this September 15 to October 15, now is the time to reflect on how breast cancer affects the Hispanic community, and the unique challenges that are often left unaddressed for Hispanic people with breast cancer.
It has been well established that the likeliness of a breast cancer diagnosis can be determined by one’s genetic background, and is often linked to race. This presents challenges when attempting to study and understand how breast cancer specifically impacts the Hispanic community, as Hispanic people are not a homogenous group and can be of any race. Historically, breast cancer research has failed to address this diversity within the Hispanic population. In fact, most research about breast cancer is based on studies of non-Hispanic white women.
That being said, some broad generalizations can be surmised from studying the Hispanic population as a whole. Recent data shows that Hispanic women are about 30% less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than non-Hispanic white women. Although this statistic sounds hopeful, it is also true that Hispanic women are more likely to be diagnosed younger, with more aggressive types of breast cancer, and are more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage. Although breast cancer may be less common among Hispanic women, they are 30% more likely to die from their breast cancer than non-Hispanic white women, with breast cancer being the leading cause of cancer deaths among Hispanic women.
Part of the issue, particularly as it pertains to timely diagnoses, is caused by a lack of access to mammograms. Regular mammograms are essential to catch cancer early, but a 2019 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that only 64% of Hispanic women over age 40 had had a mammogram within the past two years. This low figure is linked to a number of social factors, one of the biggest being the inability to make it to an appointment. Although mammograms are quick screenings, they can often only be scheduled during typical business hours, when women might have to miss work and potentially lose a paycheck in order to get them. They might also have to arrange childcare – another financial burden – and organize transportation to these appointments. These disruptions in work and family obligations create a financial barrier to mammogram access for Hispanic women, yet the consequences of missing a mammogram can be costlier.