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Latinas, Know your Breast Cancer Risk!

Dr. Maria Palafox reaches out to fellow Latinas...

· breast cancer,Cancer Surgeon,Genetic Testing

Paola Giorello was told "Come back when you're 40"!

Paola Giorello, 37, a breast cancer survivor from Uruguay, knows well the hurdles many Latino women face when it comes to health issues. Giorello noticed a lump in her breast in February 2015. Because she was 36 and without insurance, she says her doctor wouldn’t authorize a mammogram. “Come back when you’re 40,” she said he told her. Giorello enlisted the help of a local non-profit organization and she finally was able to get a mammogram, which detected a cyst in her right breast. But she was told to come back in another six months. In the coming months, she felt the cyst thickening and lumps appeared under her arm. She and her patient advocate pressed for another mammogram.

One year later, in February, she was given a diagnosis that rocked her world: breast cancer. “I was so angry that all this time they had been telling me I was fine, that I needed to wait until I was 40 to even be checked,” says Giorello, who had a lumpectomy and is now cancer-free.

Mortality rates are different for Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Central and South American women

The above testimonial is excerpted from an article in USA Today about a study done by the Sinai Urban Health Institute regarding Hispanic women and the mortality rates among the different groups of Hispanic. The study shows how mortality rates are different for Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican and Central and South American women. Make no mistake—overall, breast cancer is the most common cancer and leading cause of cancer death in Hispanic women. For some reason, however, the mortality rate for breast cancer in highest in Puerto Rican and Mexican women; Central and South American women have the lowest mortality among the Hispanic groups studied. The study included women whose heritage came from these groups as well as women born in their native country. The study’s author was quoted as saying that there could be a variety of reasons for the difference in mortality rates, like genetic differences or lifestyle and dietary differences that might be cultural.

Why do Mexican women have one of the highest mortality rates for breast cancer among Hispanics?

I noticed that the article did not talk about family history and genetics as a possible reason for why Mexican women have one of the highest mortality rates for breast cancer among Hispanics. It has been well-established by genetic research that there is a genetic change in the BRCA 1 gene that is particularly common in Mexican women who get breast cancer. This change in the BRCA 1 gene [BRCA 1 del (exons 9-12)] is considered by many to be a founder mutation, meaning it is a genetic change that occurs very often in a specific population, in this case Mexican women. It is also important to show that this genetic change originally occurred only once in history. The article in USA Today discusses differences in survival from breast cancer among Hispanic women, and points out that Mexican breast cancer patients have worse survival compared to other Hispanic women, but the article is wrong in not discussing the importance of genetic testing among Mexican women diagnosed before the age of 45, even in those with no family history. Had Paola Giorello’s doctor considered the fact that she is a Hispanic woman and young and feels a lump in her breast that is growing, they may have done the mammogram sooner and diagnosed her breast cancer at an earlier stage.

Talk to your family about your family history in honor of breast cancer awareness month

Ladies, in honor of breast cancer awareness month, talk to your family and find out about any cancer history on either your mom’s or your dad’s side. And if you feel a lump, don’t stop until you have a mammogram and at least a discussion about biopsy. We as Mexican and Mexican-American women need to watch out for ourselves!

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