Sara Gómez-Trillos, the Latina Researcher Who Wants To Improve Care for Women With Cancer

Sara Gómez-Trillos BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of the Fisher Center for Hereditary Cancer and Clinical Genomics Research/BELatina.

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer worldwide. It is also the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women throughout the Americas. There are more than 462,000 new cases and nearly 100,000 deaths from breast cancer in the region each year.

According to figures from the World Health Organization, breast cancer accounts for 27% of new cases and 16% of cancer deaths among women in Latin America and the Caribbean. In the United States and Canada, it accounts for 24% of new cases and 14% of cancer deaths.

Given this incidence rate, research such as that of Colombian Sara Gómez-Trillos is more urgent than ever.

Gómez-Trillos, who is a research specialist and project coordinator at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in Washington DC. She told Forbes, a team led by Dr. Alejandra Hurtado de Mendoza, adapted and culturally tested a telephone genetic counseling (TGC) protocol and educational booklet for Latina breast cancer survivors who prefer Spanish.

“Our TGC protocol and booklet are the first to be developed for a Latina population specifically and to be tested in Spanish,” Gómez-Trillos says.

Sara Gómez-Trillos has helped increase awareness and use of genetic counseling and testing for Latinas at increased risk for Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome (HBOC).

BRCA1 (breast cancer gene 1) and BRCA2 (breast cancer gene 2) are genes that help suppress tumors. When people who inherit damaged copies of these genes, they are at increased risk for several types of cancer, including breast and ovarian cancer, Forbes explained.

Because of the genetic nature of this disease, it may be helpful for patients to have access to genetic counseling, meaning that someone at risk of passing on an inherited disorder can access professional advice.

“Our cultural adaptation of TGC can increase the reach and quality of care for Latinas at increased risk for HBOC, thus promoting health equity,” Gómez-Trillos said.

Gómez-Trillos was born and raised in Medellin, Colombia, and moved to the United States at age 18 to pursue her education at the University of Virginia. She began researching development, social relationships, and their impact on physical health.

Her interdisciplinary academic background and her extensive experience in behavioral research allowed her to focus her research on the social determinants of health, social network analysis, and social support and health.

“When we talk about health, it’s important to understand the culture, values, beliefs, and traditions in addition to understanding the resources available,” Gómez-Trillo told Forbes.

Now, thanks to her research, the availability of genetic services could have a significant impact on the health of millions of women in Latin America.

“In Colombia, it is increasingly common, especially in the larger cities and institutions, but there are still many inequities on who is aware of these services and who can access them,” she said.

With information from Forbes.