Column, "Breast Health Awareness," by Haydeé Morales, Vice President of Education, Training, and Margaret Sanger Center International, Planned Parenthood of New York City, published in Spanish in El Diario (9/21/12)
Too many of our families have been touched in some way by breast cancer. Too many of the people we love – a grandmother, a mother, a sister, an aunt, a friend, a girl-friend, a neighbor– have struggled with this disease in some way. In New York City, roughly 5,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, and more than 1,000 die from it.
Breast cancer is less common in Latin America than it is in the United States, but it stands as the leading cause of cancer death for U.S. Latinas. When Latinas first arrive in the U.S., they typically experience lower breast cancer rates than women who are born here. But studies show that our breast cancer risk increases the longer we live here, eventually approaching that of non-Hispanic whites.
This is no great surprise when you consider Latinas – like other immigrants – tend to adopt more U.S.-style diets and lifestyles the longer they live here. Over time, we become more likely to consume tobacco, alcohol and junk food. We also get less exercise and suffer more obesity – all likely risk factors for breast cancer. This may help explain why death rates are 22 percent higher for U.S.-born Hispanics than for first-generation immigrants.
As women and Latinas, we must ensure that we and our loved ones are doing all we can to stay informed and healthy. Breast cancer can strike any woman, regardless of her age or lifestyle, but studies have identified several lifestyle factors that can raise or lower the odds. By staying physically active, maintaining a healthy body weight, quitting smoking and limiting our alcohol intake, we can reduce the risk of getting breast cancer.
It is also critical that we educate ourselves about breast cancer, and take advantage of the simple procedures that can help detect it early, while it is still treatable. For women 40 and older, clinical breast exams, which involve physically checking the breasts, can help identify lumps and other potentially dangerous abnormalities.
Not all breast lumps are cancerous, but they all warrant follow-up testing by a radiology lab. At Planned Parenthood of New York City, our breast screening services can help women detect potential breast cancer and can reassure them when abnormalities are benign.Whenever necessary, we refer our patients to low-cost or no-cost diagnostic and treatment services. We also help patients navigate the often complicated health care system if they need additional care, and we stay in touch with them to ensure that they get the answers and support they need. Our doors are open to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay or their immigration status.
As a trusted provider of health care to nearly 50,000 patients a year, Planned Parenthood of New York City understands the challenges patients often face in seeking out care. When it comes to following up on breast abnormalities, fear and cost are two of the most significant barriers. We are addressing these barriers with a planned expansion of our breast health work through our soon to be launched “Promotores de Salud” program. This work will focus on education and outreach to Latinas in the South Bronx. Our “promotores” – Latina community health workers who live in the communities they serve – will link clients to PPNYC health centers, where clinicians can refer them on forwhatever breast health services they need.
We provide many of our patients with the only health care visit they receive each year. So if you haven’t had a breast exam this year, I encourage you and your loved ones to make appointment today. Men, women – we all have a role to play, in ensuring the ones we care about are being proactive regarding their breast health. Visit our website at http://www.plannedparenthood.org/ to find your nearest health center, or call 311 to learn more about breast cancer and other locations where you can get checked.
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