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Mexican-Born Women Get Breast Cancer Earlier

September 2, 2010
Written by: , Filed in: Breast Imaging, Practice Management
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Women of Mexican origin have specific breast cancer-related needs and should be the focus of targeted prevention and education efforts, according to a study at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

The study, published online this week in the journal Cancer, found that:

  • Among Mexican-origin women with breast cancer who were surveyed, half were diagnosed before age 50. That’s years earlier than the national average for non-Hispanic white women.
  • Their strongest risk factor was family history, which increased the odds of getting cancer fourfold. Of the women with breast cancer, 85 percent had a family history.
  • Mexican-born women who spoke English well had two and a half times the risk of Mexican-born women who did not.
  • Single women were almost twice as likely as married women to develop breast cancer.
  • Women without insurance were one and a half times more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than those who had insurance.

For this population, at least, the researchers rejected the controversial U.S. Preventive Task Force guidelines released last year that recommend that mammograms (or other breast cancer screening) begin at age 50 for the general population. MD Anderson has continued to recommend that screening begin at age 40.

“Under the revised Task Force guidelines, up to half of Mexican-origin women with breast cancer may be undiagnosed or diagnosed in late stages, possibly increasing disparities in rates of breast cancer mortality,” said Patricia Miranda, PhD, the study’s lead author. “Hispanic women are not recognized in the guidelines as a high-risk group, and we would like to see that decision revisited.”

Dr. Miranda is a Kellogg Health Scholar postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Health Disparities Research at MD Anderson. She was quoted in an MD Anderson news release.

According to MD Anderson, previous studies have shown that Hispanic women in the United States are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced breast cancer than non-Hispanic white women, and 20 percent more likely to die from breast cancer.

Said Dr. Miranda:

Going forward, we believe it’s essential to create education programs specifically for this population, especially if any of the screening guidelines change.

The study also recommends that Hispanic women receive help in getting health insurance so they can have increased access to screening and early detection.

Many mysteries remain. Why does cancer occur earlier in Mexican-born women, for example, and why would acculturation (i.e., fluency in English) make a difference? MD Anderson is currently involved in a major study of Hispanic women in Mexico, Arizona, and Texas that may address those questions.

In the meantime, the new study reminds us again that to increase rates of breast-cancer screening will require many different solutions tailored to specific communities, and not a one-size-fits-all strategy.

Related seminar: Breast Imaging and Digital Mammography

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