June 9, 2006

Mexican American Women Think of Others First

By Esmeralda Servin

Mexican women are often seen as the family anchor; taking care of the children, husband and, sometimes, parents.

But what happens when a Mexican woman’s health is jeopardized as a result of her caring nature.

“Latina women are always left last on the list. We care for others before we take care of ourselves,” said Irene Lopez, Vice Chair of the “Why Me” program in San Diego.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that Hispanic women, particularly those who live in countries along the U.S Mexico border are less likely to undergo regular screenings for breast cancer.

The “Why Me” program is hoping to change some of those cultural barriers and make a difference in the health of Latina women.

Upbringing is a large factor in how Mexican women care for themselves.

“It’s partly cultural that you don’t touch your body or look in the mirror,” said Lopez.

That notion is a huge barrier in breast care.

“It’s important for women to know their bodies, examine their breasts and be aware of any changes,” said Lopez.

Women can begin monthly breast self-exam at age 20. From ages 20-39 women should have a clinical breast exam by a health professional every three years. Women 40 and older should have a clinical breast exam every year and also begin having annual mammograms.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), being a woman is the main risk factor for breast cancer. The chance of getting breast cancer also goes up as women get older.

About 1 case of breast cancer in 10 is linked to changes in certain genes that increase a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer.

Breast cancer risk is higher among women whose close blood relatives on the mother or father’s side have this disease, according to the ACS.

Having a mother, sister, or daughter with breast cancer nearly doubles a woman’s risk.

Although it is recommended to conduct regular breast self exams, having a mammography done is most important after the age of 40. A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast that can detect any abnormalities in the breast, that can’t be felt.

The procedure can be costly, but there are programs that fund free mammogram screening.

“Why Me” is a bilingual hotline and patient navigator program.

If a woman has been diagnosed with breast cancer, she can call in and get information about treatment.

“Staff at ‘Why Me’ has been known to take the person by the hand and go with her to her appointment for treatment,” said Lopez.

“Why Me” also pays for everything up to the point of diagnosis.

The program conducts regular outreach programs where doctors come in and conduct a day of free mammogram screening and follow-up care.

Another barrier in breast cancer awareness is language.

But “Why Me” has overcome that barrier with its bilingual staff and information in Spanish.

Berta Tiznado was a volunteer for the “Why Me” program for five years before being named Project Coordinator.

She understands the frustrations and fears that many Latina women experience when it comes to their health.

“Women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer feel scared and unsure of what will happen. We teach them that they can survive from this,” said Tiznado.

She said there is no such thing as complete prevention, but early detection goes a long way. Some strategies that are currently recommended to reduce the risk include maintaining a normal body weight, exercising regularly, breast feeding and limiting alcoholic consumption.

According to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, Hispanic women have a lower survival rate than non-Hispanic white women, due in part to later diagnosis.

Being aware of changes in your body goes a long way. According to the ACS, early signs of breast cancer include the following:

• A swelling of part of the breast

• Skin irritation or dimpling

• Nipple pain or the nipple turning inward

• Redness or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin

• A nipple discharge other than breast milk

• A lump in the underarm area

The CDC is currently funding the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program.

The CDC offers screening for low-income women and ensures follow-up treatment and case management.

For more information log on to http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/nbccedp/about.htm, or contact Irene Lopez at (619) 594-8655 for more information on the “Why Me” program. In the North County area you can contact Berta Tiznado at (760) 839-1491. The “Why Me” program regularly conducts no cost mammograms.

Esmeralda Servin is an intern with the UCSD San Diego EXPORT Center and is a graduate of the journalism program at San Diego State University. The San Diego EXPORT Center is a partnership of organizations focusing on community minority health and health disparities research.

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