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Latinas and breast cancer
(Photo courtesy: Kaiser Permanente)

By James Mejia

You can hardly avoid the pink. Socks on NFL players, the Denver City and County Building draped in the hue and a 5k walk that takes over downtown and parts of the Northside. Behind the country’s most successful cancer awareness campaign is the Susan G. Komen Foundation; with a mission of funding breast cancer research, treatment, screening and education, the organization has grown dramatically since its founding in 1982. Colorado has two local affiliates, one in the Cherry Creek neighborhood of Denver and the other in Colorado Springs. Though substantial attention and resources have been brought to combat the disease, statistics continue to convey an uphill battle for Latinas stricken with breast cancer.

According to the National Cancer Institute, Latinas have a lower incidence of breast cancer and breast cancer death compared to other ethnic groups yet the disease is still the leading cause of death amongst Latinas. One of the biggest controllable issues with the disease amongst our community is the incidence of too infrequent health check-ups which translates to the ailment only being diagnosed in later stages.

As with other diseases, early detection and treatment is key. Lower health insurance availability and cultural barriers have led to growth and prevalence of breast cancer among Latinas.

Realizing the gap in services for Latinas, the Latino/a Research & Policy Center at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center assembled a cancer prevention network to address the lack of research and services in the Latino community. Founded in 2006 by Dr. Estevan Flores and known as the Greater Denver Latino Cancer Prevention Network, the organization focused on five cancers affecting the Latino community, including breast cancer. In order to address cultural barriers, the Network successfully created programs by Latinos, for Latinos and presented in the Latino community.

Most notable in these efforts was the bilingual play, The Cancer Monologues, developed and performed by Denver’s Chicano theater, El Centro Su Teatro. Part of the production was presented in Spanish, and language, humor, location and cultural awareness were tools used to reach the Latino community with a difficult topic in a comfortable setting. The production demonstrated how barriers can be overcome in educating and impelling Latinas to seek services, yet no other efforts on the same scale have been realized to date.

One of the biggest obstacles faced by communities of color is their absence from clinical trials. When less is known about cancer incidence in communities, environmental and hereditary factors are often missed in educating communities about risk factors and prevention. With this in mind, the National Cancer Institute has initiated the Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities. Opportunities for funding, information on ongoing research and networks conducting research is currently available on their web site.

According to the National Cancer Institute, breast cancer is prevalent when more risk factors are present. Only some risk factors are preventable and all should be monitored closely. Risk factors include:

Older age

Family history


Drinking alcohol.

Conversely, increasing individual protective factors are helpful in preventing the occurrence of breast cancer. Protective factors include:

Substantial exercise

A healthy diet

*Hormone therapy for some patients.

Early detection is key to breast cancer treatment. Mammography screening is available in clinics throughout the Metro area and some will even come to you. Through Clinica Tepeyac, for a small fee mammography services are provided through the St. Joseph’s Hospital mobile mammography van.

If you need resources or know someone else who does, consult the Colorado Breast Cancer Resources Directory at or the Susan G. Komen Foundation at





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