Combating Cervical Cancer in the Latina Community

By Marcela Vargas, Project Coordinator, Institute for Hispanic Health

Cervical Health Awareness MonthFor 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.

Two White House Events Highlight Our Role in Making Latinos Healthier

By Manuela McDonough, Program Manager, Institute for Hispanic Health, NCLR

For Hispanic Heritage Month this year, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) had an opportunity to participate in two very exciting events at the White House that celebrated the history, culture, and contributions of Latinos in the U.S.

A September 26 briefing focused on the promotores de salud (community health workers) program model.  Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and former NCLR Senior Vice President, opened the session by talking about the importance of addressing Latino health issues in a culturally competent manner.  Other high-level government officials and community-based researchers followed by sharing examples of successful promotores projects.

The highlight of the event, however, was a memo from President Obama honoring National Promotores de Salud and Community Health Workers Day.  In the memo, President Obama said that promotores “play a critical role in closing our country’s healthcare gaps,” and through their tireless efforts promotores are contributing to the well-being and health of this nation.  The president’s recognition of the hard work that these committed professionals and volunteers do give hope to the future of promotores programs.  These vital members of the community have been underappreciated for many years.

For the second event, NCLR had an opportunity work directly with the White House Office of Public Engagement to organize a Latino Health Policy Briefing for our Board members and Affiliates.  On October 11, approximately 30 Affiliate leaders and Board members gathered from throughout the country to participate in this briefing, which emphasized the Affordable Care Act.  The briefing provided an opportunity to elevate the key interests and needs of our Affiliates as we enter a new stage of health care reform implementation.  Our Affiliates and Board members heard from Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, the top health appointee from the National Economic Council, and the U.S. Chief Technology Officer on improving access via system transformation, achieving health equity, and improving cultural competency in service delivery.

Now that Hispanic Heritage Month is over, we are moving forward with a clearer understanding of the Obama administration’s approach to addressing the growing health needs of the Latino population.  We can be proud of what Latinos have done to make us a healthier country.