Bella Vida by Letty

Latinas and Cancer: “I do not feel any less of a woman,” said Angelina Jolie of her double mastectomy.

Angelina Jolie  Actor and director Angelina Jolie revealed she has successfully undergone a preventative double mastectomy which she describes in uncensored detail in today’s New York Times.  I commend her for having the courage to step forward publicly, especially when working in an industry which more often than not treats women as objects and measures them by their body parts.

Jolie’s mother died of cancer after battling with it for ten years at the young age of 56.  Knowing her history she took the proactive step of testing for mutations of the breast cancer susceptibility gene, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2, which can be inherited.  In normal cells these prevent uncontrolled cell growth whereas mutation of these genes have been linked to the development of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.  After testing, Jolie’s doctors concluded she had 87% risk of breast cancer and 50% risk of ovarian cancer.  She then took the proactive measure of having a double mastectomy dropping her risk to only 5%.

 Who should consider getting tested?

In a family with a history of breast and/or ovarian cancer, it may be most informative to first test a family member who has breast or ovarian cancer. If that person is found to have a harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, then other family members can be tested to see if they also have the mutation. Source

In her own words:

“For any woman reading this, I hope it helps you to know you have options. I want to encourage every woman, especially if you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, to seek out the information and medical experts who can help you through this aspect of your life, and to make your own informed choices.

Life comes with many challenges. The ones that should not scare us are the ones we can take on and take control of.”   Angelina Jolie

This is a great opportunity to address the issue of cancer in the Latino community so let’s look at some statistics.

Cancer Statistics for Latinas

A high proportion of Hispanic women are uninsured (about 30%). Uninsured Hispanic women with breast cancer are more than twice as likely as other women to be diagnosed with breast cancer in advanced stages. The disease is more difficult to treat successfully when it is diagnosed in its advanced stages, and survival rates are lower.

Latinas also face other barriers to health care, including difficulties with language, transportation, child care, immigration status and cultural differences.

breast cancer statistics in the latino community

  • Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the leading cause of cancer death among Hispanic American/Latina women.
  • Latinas are more likely to die from breast cancer than white women who are diagnosed at a similar age and stage. Some ethnic and racial groups have been less likely to receive breast cancer screening, and thus their breast cancers are often diagnosed at later stages. This later diagnosis increases the chance of dying from breast cancer.
  • Latinas women have a lower incidence of breast cancer than white women, however, they are more likely to be diagnosed with larger tumors and late stage breast cancer .
  • Lack of medical coverage, barriers to early detection and screening, and unequal access to improvements in cancer treatment may contribute to observed differences in survival.
  • Recent research indicates aggressive breast tumors are more common in younger African American/Black and Hispanic/Latino women living in low socioeconomic areas. This more aggressive form of breast cancer is less responsive to standard cancer treatments and is associated with poorer survival.

cervical cancer statistics in the latino community

  • Latinas have the highest cervical cancer incidence rate.
  • The disproportionate burden of cervical cancer in Hispanic/Latino and African American/Black women is primarily due to a lack of screening.
  • Persistent infection with certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) is the major cause of most cases of cervical cancer. An HPV vaccine is now available that targets two strains of the virus that are associated with development of cervical cancer and account for approximately 70 percent of all cases of cervical cancer worldwide. This vaccine prevents infection by two HPV strains and has the potential to reduce cervical cancer-related health disparities both in the United States and around the world.  Source

What You Can Do

As you can see some of these statistics can be turned around by being proactive.  Be an advocate for your health care. If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, become informed about your diagnosis, treatment, and long-term follow-up care.  If you are age 40 or above, get regular mammograms and breast exams and spread the word to women you know to do the same. Getting the HPV vaccine is yet another preventative measure.  Another suggestion is go with a friend or family member and get screened together.  Participate in making decisions about your health.


Please feel free to share suggestions and resources in the comments.



National Alliance for Hispanic Health:

The National Cancer Institute:

Susan G. Komen .org

Breast Cancer .org

Report: Cancer Facts & Figures for Hispanics/Latinos 2009-2011



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