An Answer to the Projected Spike in Cancer Rates Among Latinos
Prevention & Treatment One hundred and forty-two percent: That’s the staggering growth rate in U.S. Latino cancer cases we’re projected to hit by 2030.
Latinos have higher rates of liver, cervical and other cancers; lower cancer screening rates; and are diagnosed at more advanced, less treatable cancer stages than non-Latinos.
How can researchers, providers and Latino themselves tackle these grave disparities? One word: prevention.
A Harvard study in May 2016 found that 40 percent of cancer cases and 50 percent of cancer deaths could be prevented if people quit smoking, avoided heavy drinking, kept a healthy weight, and got just a half-hour a day of moderate exercise. A British study from last year went further. It declared healthy lifestyles and removing pollution could wipe out 90 percent of cancer cases.
We must employ four critical strategies to achieve cancer prevention among Latinos. Firstly, we must build a “culture of health.” This enables all in our diverse society to have the means, opportunity, equity, access and desire to lead healthier lives — now and for generations to come.
We must deliver culturally competent education, tools and action opportunities to empower Latinos to create healthy grassroots changes for healthy weight among children. This can be starting an open use policy to unlock schoolyards publicly after class. It can be improving school wellness policies, or city policies for more parks. It can be promoting breastfeeding in new ways.
“...bilingual, bicultural patient navigators can effectively guide Latino cancer patients through the complex care system, increasing timely diagnosis and treatment.”
These grassroots changes can build a culture of health where Latino kids and families can grow up with healthy weight with less risk of cancer, diabetes and heart problems. Secondly, we must comprehensively address Latinos cancer disparities, such as cervical cancer.
Protecting more women
No woman should die from cervical cancer. But Latinas often suffer late-stage diagnosis and death, even though we have prevention through the HPV vaccine and effective treatment. We need a comprehensive approach with long-term support. Community health workers can educate our communities in English and Spanish and connect them to resources.
Media campaigns can reinforce community health workers’ messages. Physician education can help pediatricians and family physicians encourage vaccine use. Parent education can boost vaccine uptake.
Thirdly, we must apply patient navigation in new ways. Studies show that bilingual, bicultural patient navigators — who help underserved people access cancer prevention, education, screening and follow-up services — can effectively guide Latino cancer patients through the complex care system, increasing timely diagnosis and treatment.
Researchers already are applying navigation to test its effect on Latino cancer survivors’ quality of life, help survivors make cancer-recurrence-fighting dietary changes and educate them on prevention. Navigation can influence countless more behaviors. This is a model that can be replicated anywhere.
Industry role models
Fourthly, we must increase minority representation in health and research fields. We desperately need health care professionals that, at minimum, have the language skills to communicate effectively with patients, provide quality care, and deliver interventions.
If we do these things, we can lower healthcare costs and give everyone a chance to live a healthier life — and make sure Latino cancer rates never spike to 142 percent.