English Proficiency, A Limiting Factor for Latinas Health

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Photo courtesy of De Las Mias.

The woman that tucked you in at night, that cooked every warm meal for you, and the one that held your hand while the doctor vaccinated you; our Latina women are the ones that have seen for the nurture and health of the household but are the most vulnerable to breast cancer.  

A study released by the American College of Surgeons has found that limited English-language proficiency (LEP) is a connecting factor to the decreasing likelihood of potentially getting a lifesaving mammogram.

Mammograms work as x-ray images of the breast, which are used to detect cancer at the early stages even if they do not feel any symptoms. Early detection of tumorous masses in the breast allows the doctor to treat it early and increases the chances of being removed, decreasing the patient’s risk, and taking care of our breast. Screenings of mammography are proven to save lives.

Undergoing mammography is a vital component of any woman’s life, and language should play no role in someone’s right to remain healthy. In a country where, as stated by a study conducted by the American College of Surgeons, approximately 41 million people of 67 million speak Spanish, it is frightening that a lack of English proficiency plays a primary health factor. The study found that “Spanish-only speakers appear to have a 27% less likelihood of having a screening mammogram.” 

As I spoke to Dr. Celeste Cruz, MD, breast surgeon, and contributor to the American College of Surgeons mammography likelihood study, she emphasized the importance of mammograms and the vital role in a woman’s health. 

Dr. Cruz is very passionate about caring about the Latino community, and she wondered why Latinas were less likely to get mammograms. To her surprise, the study found the reason was the lack of health education and intercultural communication. 

Breast cancer is a leading cause of a woman’s death, and we must treat it like it. There is a lack of information regarding the importance of mammograms, and it is information that is disproportionally not reaching the Hispanic population. People must be informed and aware of the reason and the benefits of mammograms.

This lack of flow of information has caused a negative connotation behind the exam. It has created a huge fear that is handed down from generation to generation. That emotion holds you back from taking the exam because “you don’t want to know the results,” or the anxiety and uncomfortableness it might cause. It is also the overconfidence of, “since there is no cancer in my family, I won’t get cancer.”

In reality, according to the U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics, 1 in 8 American women will be affected by breast cancer directly, which is about 12% of the expected diagnosis.

Cancer does not care who you are or who your family is. This fear and wrong mentality are deep-rooted in the dinner table talks avoided in the Hispanic household. Those health conversations about lethal diseases become taboo or secret within a family.

Health providers like Dr. Cruz are continually working on spreading the message behind the importance of early detection. In the end, it is not about race, language, or even gender, because health is a human right that must be defended. 

Early prevention must be a topic to be academically shared and one to take place within the family. It is the lives of our mothers, grandmas, and sisters at risk, and mammography is one step forward to ensure their health.