By Marcela Vargas, Project Coordinator, Institute for Hispanic Health
For me, the word “cancer” is one of the most frightening words in the English language. As someone whose family has been touched several times by this ugly word, I understand the fear and anxiety that even thinking about cancer can bring about. Like anything worrisome, it’s tempting to push that word out of our minds and pretend that cancer doesn’t exist. However, I also understand the danger of ignoring it.
January is Cervical Health Awareness Month and it’s an issue that hits us close to home at NCLR for several reasons. For starters, Latinas have the highest rate of cervical cancer among racial groups and the second highest rate of death from cervical cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Despite these high rates of disease and death, Latinas age 18–44 have lower screening rates than Whites and Blacks.
What’s particularly heartbreaking about cervical cancer, however, is that it is not only highly preventable, but also highly treatable. Getting routine Pap tests is a valuable way of catching cervical cancer when treatment is still simple and effective. The CDC reports that 60% of cervical cancers occur in women who have never received a Pap test or have not been tested within the last five years.
So why aren’t Latinas getting tested? Research on this topic has found that there are a lot of factors that come into play. Common reasons women don’t get tested include embarrassment, cost, and fear of getting abnormal results. However, there are also many factors that promote cervical cancer screening. For example, low-cost or free services for cervical cancer screenings exist at places such as federally funded health centers or Title X family planning clinics. And, in terms of education, we here at NCLR are doing our part to empower and promote the well-being of the Latina community.
I recently started working at NCLR, focusing on their Mujer Sana, Familia Fuerte (Healthy Woman, Strong Family) project. Mujer Sana, Familia Fuerte was funded by the CDC in late 2009 to address the need for effective cervical cancer education among Latinas. This community-based project seeks to improve knowledge, change attitudes, and get women to seek cervical cancer screenings, especially among Latinas in Washington, DC and Chicago. I’m happy to report that thanks to partnerships with inspiring organizations and the work of some dedicated promotores de salud (lay health workers), we’ve been able to reach thousands of Latinas with important cervical cancer prevention information.
If I’ve learned anything from my time working here and my family experiences, it’s the power of getting tested. Sure, the thought of getting tested or receiving an abnormal result can be daunting, but the thought of not finding out in time to do something about it is much more frightening.
Keep visiting the NCLR blog for more in this series as we take a closer look at cervical cancer for Cervical Health Awareness Month.