Jun 3, 2021 - Health

Breast cancer leads Latinas' cancer deaths

Illustration of a caduceus with uneven wings

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The most common cancer diagnosed among U.S. Latinas is breast cancer, and it's their leading cause of cancer-related death, research published in the journal Cancer Control found.

Why it matters: "While they are less likely to get breast cancer than other ethnic groups, Hispanic women who are diagnosed are 20% more likely than white women to die from the disease," the Baltimore Sun writes.

The big picture: Despite evidence that Latinas have the second-highest prevalence of the breast cancer genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, their awareness of hereditary cancer risks and genetic testing is low, Susan M. Domchek, executive director of the Basser Center for BRCA at Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center, writes, limiting their options for early treatment.

What's happening: The Latino community is more likely to have difficulties accessing health care and insurance, making it harder to access medical counseling, referrals and testing services.

  • A 2017 study found that cultural beliefs can influence whether Latinas decide to prolong delays when seeking "preventive services or timely follow-up for breast symptoms regardless of access."
    • Almost 50% of the women who participated in the study said they believed "Faith in God can protect you from breast cancer."
  • The lower incidence of breast cancer among Latinas can also lead to the misconception that they should not worry about the disease, according to the Dr. Susan Love Foundation for breast cancer research.
  • For those who only speak Spanish, there are fewer resources than in English. The Oncology Nursing Society recommends diversifying the workforce to increase the number of Spanish-speaking counselors.

By the numbers: A National Cancer Society survey conducted between 2018 and 2020 found that 61% of Hispanic women over the age of 40 reported getting a mammogram compared to 65% of white women in the same age group.

  • Research conducted in Texas found that 21.3% of Hispanic patients younger than 50 developed advanced breast cancer, compared to 13.5% for non-Hispanic patients.

Worth noting: The overall breast cancer mortality rate for Hispanic women is 13.8 per 100,000, fewer than Black (27.5 per 100,000) or white women (19.4 per 100,000), according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

But, but, but: Breast cancer affects the Latino community differently depending on ethnicity. Puerto Ricans and Mexicans are more likely to die from the disease than other Hispanic women, USA Today reports.

  • The mortality rate for Puerto Rican women with breast cancer in the U.S. is 19.04 per 100,000 women. For Mexicans, it is 18.78 per 100,000.
  • In comparison, the rate for Central and South American women is 10.15 per 100,000.

The bottom line: "Unless we can gain momentum with more discussion and education about breast cancer and more research into specific causes and prevention of breast cancer in Hispanics, the mortality rate could soon surpass that of non-Hispanic whites," said Susan Love, founder of the Dr. Susan Love Foundation for breast cancer research.

Go deeper