Breast Cancer and Mental Health, Another Roadblock for Latinas

Breast Cancer Mental Health BELatina Latinx
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Breast cancer is known as “the silent killer” for more than one reason. Not only does it often go unnoticed in its early stages, but it is also a difficult issue to address and discuss within families.

For Latinas, coping with such a dangerous disease involves many cultural and psychosocial obstacles.

Hispanic women have an incidence of breast cancer approximately 20% lower than the general U.S. population, according to figures from the American Cancer Society. The incidence in the Latina community was 91.9 per 100,000 annually between 2008 and 2012, compared to 128.1 and 124.3 for Black women.

In other words, over her lifetime, a Latina in the United States has approximately a 9.8%, or 1 in 10 chance, of developing breast cancer.

However, despite the low incidence compared to the national average, breast cancer remains the most common cancer among Hispanic women, accounting for an estimated 19,800 new cases in 2015 and representing 29% of all cancers diagnosed in that group.

Breast cancer is the most common non-skin cancer among women worldwide and is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related mortality overall. It is also the leading cause of cancer-related mortality among Hispanic women in the United States.

Even within a single country, incidence and mortality vary significantly depending on several risk factors, best organized as factors that increase the risk of developing breast cancer and factors that increase mortality after diagnosis.

In the case of Latinas, these risk factors tend to be genetic and socioeconomic status, education, and access to medical care.

But even once cancer is overcome, the hurdles don’t let up for Hispanic women.

A new study has found that Latina breast cancer survivors are less likely to seek counseling because of concerns that the counselor may not understand their values or be able to communicate with them in their language.

As explained by Cancer Network, the new study published in The American Journal of Psychotherapy found that more than half of the sample was more interested in returning to a normal routine without seeking counseling (60%), attending to their own emotional needs (63%), or seeking support from friends or family (56%). 

Similarly, most Latina patients were more likely to seek counseling from a spiritual leader and report that there were no psychosocial counselors who spoke their language or understood their values and background.

“This study evaluated barriers to psychosocial services use faced by Latina and non-Latina white breast cancer survivors at a comprehensive cancer center. Among the women who reported needing psychosocial services, Latinas were more likely to report that there were no counselors who could speak their language or understand their cultural values and background and that mental health services were too expensive,” the study’s investigators wrote.

The research was conducted through a mailed questionnaire sent to white Latina and non-Latina breast cancer survivors who had received treatment at a New York City cancer center.

Comparing the two groups, the researchers reported that the Latina women sampled had lower levels of education, with 30% having completed high school or less, compared with 17% of the non-Latina whites. Thirty-two percent of Latina patients indicated that they preferred to have their care provided in Spanish, with 30% of Latinas. In addition, 91% of the non-Latina white patients were born in the United States, while some Latinas were born in Puerto Rico (22%) or South America (22%).

Compared with non-Latino white patients, the Latino population was more likely to agree that mental health services were too expensive (43%), that using an interpreter for therapy would make them feel uncomfortable (22%), and that their doctor had never told them about counseling (24%).

The researchers’ conclusion was lapidary: it is crucial to study and address the multilevel barriers in patient access to and use of psychosocial care that perpetuate health disparities and discrepancies among racial and ethnic groups in the context of cancer treatment.