Oklahoma City agency has success helping Hispanic women survive breast cancer

BY HANNAH COVINGTON hcovington@opubco.com Modified: June 23, 2013 at 3:44 pm •  Published: June 23, 2013
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At night, Elsa Garcia laid in bed, touching the three, strange lumps in her left breast.

An immigrant from Guatemala without health insurance, Garcia, 59, had never heard of breast cancer.

And even if she knew what the lumps meant, she couldn't pay for treatment.

Like many Hispanic women in Oklahoma City, Garcia turned to an Oklahoma City-based outreach center for help.

Through the Latino Community Development Agency, she was able to get her first mammogram. After being referred to a doctor at their free women's health clinic, she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005.

If not for the agency, Garcia said the cancer would have gone undetected and she might not be alive eight years later.

“Latino women always think about their families and about others who need help. If I can help someone, I do,” Garcia said. “I tell to all the ladies, ‘Come to the Latino agency, they will help you.'”

And many do.

Breast cancer survivor rates among Hispanic women in the Oklahoma City area have steadily increased since 1995, according to a study conducted by the OU Breast Institute.

Researchers and medical professionals attribute the consistent improvement to free prevention programs and health clinics like the ones offered by the Latino Community Development Agency. It has provided free screenings to women for 16 years.

Survival rates have not increased as significantly among other minority groups over the same time period.

“Other ethnic groups are not able to cover as many bases, and that's what makes this population unique,” said Dr. William Dooley, surgical oncologist at OU Medical Center. “Places like the Latino Agency offer so many avenues of support and make Hispanics more engaged throughout the process so that they start treatment and complete treatment.”

The Oklahoma City study reflects a greater national trend among Hispanic women.

Fewer Hispanic women have died from breast cancer over the last 20 years, with a nationwide decrease of about 2 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Though the percent may seem small, statistically, it is a significant decrease, said Kathy Cronin of the National Cancer Institute.

Dooley believes the increasing survival rate in Oklahoma represents the measurable impact of Hispanics reaching out to other Hispanics in the community.

“We think this is related to the education and outreach effort to increase breast cancer awareness and screening and take some of the negative stigma out of treatment and demystify it for the Hispanic community,” he said.

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