Hispanics Fail to Seek Cancer Treatment

In Hispanic culture, cancer is something people don't talk about, and that makes a diagnosis of breast cancer even tougher, says the head of a support network for Hispanic women with the cancer.

"For the Hispanic culture, it's about the group, not the individual," said Elba Saavedra, assistant professor for research at the University of New Mexico and director of the support group, Comadre a Comadre. "They think, `I've got to stay healthy porque ellos me necesitan (because my family needs me).'"

Local and national experts and oncologists plan to promote awareness and give Hispanics information about breast cancer and clinical trials at a free seminar Saturday in both English and Spanish. Its backers hope to address fears and concerns.

Clinical trials have helped develop better ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer but many women hesitate to participate because they don't understand what the experimental efforts are.

Only 3 percent of U.S. adults with cancer participate in clinical trials, and fewer than 6 percent of all participants are Hispanic, according to figures from the National Cancer Institute and Redes in Accion.

"We want to raise awareness about what clinical trials are," Saavedra said. "It's hard to reach us (Hispanics), not just because of the stereotype that we are unreachable, but because people don't always know how to reach us."

Nine community organizations are sponsoring the seminar, which will include two panel discussions and guest speaker Maria Fernandez, a professor at the University of Texas at Houston and investigator for numerous National Cancer Institute studies.

"The idea was to bring a collaborative group to look at all sides, so we can bring the best information on a national and local level," Saavedra said.

According to the cancer institute and Redes in Accion:

—The most common cancer among Hispanic women in New Mexico is breast cancer, but only 38 percent of Hispanic women age 40 and older have regular screening mammograms.

—Uninsured Hispanics are two to three times more likely to have cancer diagnosed at a later stage, making it less treatable.

—More than 21,000 U.S. Hispanics are expected to die of cancer each year.