March 5, 2004

Breast Cancer Prevention

By Paul Reeves

Ever wonder about your chances of getting breast cancer? You are not alone. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women. The Rebecca and John Moores UCSD Cancer Center and AVON Foundation have joined together to study how to educate women about breast cancer. They want women from all communities, including the Latina community, to know about breast cancer. The study teaches women about their chances of getting breast cancer, and looks for ways to prevent getting it. The AVON-funded study is exploring how best to offer screening and prevention programs to women from various ethnic groups. Program participants can get a free breast cancer risk assessment, free clinical breast exam, free mammogram, free genetic counseling, and free dietary counseling.

Anita Barba is a member of the Mexican-American community. She is also a Human Development Program undergraduate at UCSD.

“Many Latina women wait until it is almost too late to cure breast cancer before seeking medical treatment”, she said. “They fear doctors and rely on curanderos.” A curandero is a person who practices folk medicine.

As a result, breast cancer is often diagnosed in later stages in Latinas. Late stage cancer is much harder to treat than earlier stages.

‘This is a very important reason for Latinas to participate in this study,” said Barba. “Serving minority communities is one of the main goals of this study,” said Linda Wasserman, M.D., Ph.D., director of the study and associate professor of clinical medicine at UCSD School of Medicine.

“The AVON Foundation’s primary interest is improving breast cancer care for medically undeserved women”, she said.

Maria Melendez is a recent participant in the AVON study. She said she feels so strongly about the study that she wishes all the women in her community would participate.

“My experience was incredible”, she said. “Not only did I learn about the correlation between a poor diet and increased risk of cancer, I learned how to eat much healthier so as to possibly prevent cancer in the future. My whole conscience, in terms of how to look at food and how to read labels, has been changed for the better.” Maria added: “Furthermore, the program is user friendly. The whole process was painless and the staff was extremely kind. I only wish that more information pamphlets about the methods of breast examinations were available to more people.”

The researchers are also trying to understand if genetic differences can explain why some people get cancer.

“There are only small differences in genes among various ethnic groups,” said Georgia Robins Sadler, Ph.D. the Cancer Center’s associate director for community outreach and clinical professor of surgery. “However, that can affect how individuals in those groups respond, or fail to respond, to a particular type of medication,” she said.

There is no charge to participate in the study. Participants are asked for their personal health history and their family’s cancer history. With this information, the study team can tell participants if they are at average risk of getting breast cancer or above average risk. Participants can then decide if they want to participate in the next part of the study - the dietary and genetic counseling opportunities.

To learn more about this study, call: Ann Quebedeaux at (858) 822-3412 or email her at cquebedeaux@ucsd.edu.

Paul Reeves is an undergraduate Political Science major at UC San Diego and a member of the Hispanic American community. He is a Health Journalism Intern at the UCSD Cancer Center.

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