Feel Them Up: Latinas, We Need to Start Caring for Our Breasts

During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it is essential to remember one necessary gesture: feeling up your breasts — a habit that, although it is simple and takes very little time, can become a matter of life or death. Especially for Latinas. 

Recent studies on the relationship between Latinas and breast cancer are alarming. The research shows that breast cancer in Latinas can not only strike earlier than in non-Latinas but that it can also be more aggressive. Even worse, when we are diagnosed with breast cancer, Latinas are also less likely to receive appropriate and timely treatment than non-Latinas. 

When the Mexican rocker Alejandra Guzman was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer, she told the press she was scared but decided to remain positive, especially for her then 15-year-old daughter. She told the AARP that what she learned from this experience and what she wants to share with other women is that we need to constantly examine our breasts.

 “I always tell women to touch themselves. It’s healthy to grab your breasts every once in a while. As women, they teach us not to touch ourselves, to respect our bodies, and this results in us not being in touch with ourselves, not listening to our bodies.” 

Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for Latinas living in the U.S. If you haven’t searched for lumps in your breasts in the last few months, what are you waiting for?  

High numbers of advanced breast malignancies in young Latinas

Despite disparities in access to screenings and prevention, historically, U.S. Latinos have had lower cancer rates than non-Latinos. But according to a medical study done in Austin, Texas, there is a disproportionate amount of young Latinos with advanced malignancies, particularly of the breast. Being Hispanic was found to be an independent predictor of having advanced malignancies at a young age.

When a team of researchers at the Shivers Cancer Center divided patients into two groups, Hispanic versus those of non-Hispanic descent, with a subgroup of those aged less than 50, the rate among Hispanic patients with breast cancer seen in ten years was 21.3%, whereas in non-Hispanic patients it was 13.5% 

“Here in Austin, Texas, we have found a higher overall incidence of breast cancer among young Hispanic women. This is important to recognize because more efforts may be required to increase screening and health-care access to this population,” the team explained in the study.

What’s scary is that Latinas have fewer mammograms and follow up treatments, studies find. 

According to a National Cancer Society Survey conducted between 2018 and 2020, only 61% of Latinas over the age of 40 reported having a screening mammogram in the two years before the survey, compared to 65% of white women.  

Then to make matters worse, not only do Latinas have fewer mammograms, but many also delay following up when their diagnosis is abnormal. This delay in the start of treatment can mean that the tumors become more massive and begin to spread to other areas of the body. Once this happens, it becomes more challenging to get rid of cancer.

Cultural barriers can stop Latinas from seeking cancer treatment

While not having access to healthcare impedes many Latinas in the U.S. from treating their breast cancer, sometimes it’s merely cultural barriers that stop them from fighting it, opting for letting the cancer win instead. 

A study found that many Latinas suffer from a fatalistic attitude towards cancer or a spiritual belief that having cancer is God’s will. Sometimes they are also simply too shy about having their breasts examined by physicians, especially male doctors. 

Another research concluded that Latinas who were more acculturated were more likely to receive a mammogram or clinical breast examination than those who were less acculturated. 

Touch them, don’t be shy!

While standing in front of the mirror: Start with your arms down and then up, looking for any dimpling, puckering, or bulging of the skin. Check to see that a nipple hasn’t changed position or isn’t pushed inward instead of sticking out. Redness, soreness, rash, or swelling or any signs of fluid coming out of one or both nipples are signs to look for

While lying down or taking a shower: With your right hand, feel your left breast and vice versa. Use a firm, smooth touch with your hand’s first few finger pads, keeping the fingers flat and together. Use a circular motion about the size of a quarter. You can begin at the nipple, moving in larger and larger circles until you reach the breast’s outer edge. You can also move your fingers up and down vertically, in rows, as if you were mowing a lawn. This up-and-down approach seems to work best for most women. 

According to BreastCancer.org, if you are menstruating, you may want to wait to call your doctor until after your period to see if the lump you detected disappears. Most women have lumpy areas in their breasts all the time, but your doctor or gynecologist must give you an explanation about any change in your breasts. 

Most importantly, if you’re not comfortable with your doctor’s advice or bedside manner, don’t hesitate to get a second or third opinion. It’s your body, feel it, be in touch with it and examine it regularly.

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