HealthyHispanicLiving Contributor Dr. Jeffrey Weitzel Discusses How Understanding the Cultural Values of Latinas Helps Raise Awareness of Breast Cancer Risk & Prevention

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City of Hope physician urges medical community to use culturally-competent strategies to reach and teach Latinas about the disease.

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We’re not just talking about the issues. We’re solving them.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Latinas and the leading cause of cancer death.

As Hispanics continue their population surge across the United States, it becomes more and more evident how underserved this community is – whether in business, politics or the media. However, being underserved by the healthcare industry carries higher, often deadly, stakes. In anticipation of February’s National Cancer Awareness Month, there’s one area in particular area – Latinas and breast cancer – that the medical and research community should be doing more to understand as well as conduct more proactive outreach to these women.

As Dr. Jeffrey Weitzel, Chief of the Division of Clinical Cancer Genetics at City of Hope, who leads a multidisciplinary clinical and research program that emphasizes the recognition and assessment of people at increased risk for developing cancer because of family cancer history or personal risk, explains in his latest article on, “Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Latinas and the leading cause of cancer death. Yet, Latinas receive early detection and screening services far less often than non-Latina whites, and a greater proportion of Latinas are diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer.”

Further, there is a lack of research on Latinas’ genetic predisposition to breast and ovarian cancer – even though BRCA gene mutations, which bring a significant increase in risk for breast and ovarian cancer, have "high prevalence" among Latinas. In one study, 25 percent of Latinas with a personal or family history of breast or ovarian cancer had the BRCA gene mutation.

These mutations also result in early age onset, so the disease is already quite advanced when women from underserved Hispanic communities are finally diagnosed. This highlights the importance of – and great need for – more timely and culturally informed early detection and risk reduction services. But insufficient research with Latino populations has hindered the development of culturally-based prevention and treatment efforts and limited the scope of comparative studies of genetic factors and behavioral interventions that influence breast cancer risk and clinical outcomes

“To be sure, there are challenges to overcome in these high-risk underserved Hispanic communities. For example, less than 50 percent of Latinas show up for scheduled genetic cancer risk assessment (GCRA) consultations,” explains Dr. Weitzel who recently received a $380,000 grant from the Avon Foundation to continue his research on the cancer risk among Latinas as well as support his team’s community outreach. “One reason is that the time from referral to actual consultation is particularly stressful for Latinas, complete with feelings of fear, intrusive thoughts and a perceived sense of uncertainty about what to expect.”

In a preliminary study of 150 patients, Dr. Weitzel and his team found that many more patients (88 percent) kept scheduled appointments for consultations when they received a pre-GCRA telephone intervention (adapted from motivational interviewing). Additionally, outcome surveys showed subsequent risk-appropriate screening and prevention behavior. A proposed project builds on the success of these preliminary studies with a pragmatic, randomized, controlled interventional trial to test the effectiveness of a pre-GCRA telephone intervention for underserved Latinas at high risk for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. The aim is to determine that culturally and linguistically appropriate intervention will improve the uptake, preparedness for, and effectiveness of GCRA with high-risk Latinas. The findings will inform the standard of care relevant to breast cancer prevention using individualized genetic data and culturally competent strategies to boost breast cancer prevention and risk reduction among underserved women.

For Latinas, GCRA could be serving a more prominent role in their decision making process, and providing them with individualized recommendations for cancer screening and risk reduction. As seen earlier this year with actress and activist Angelina Jolie, quantifying personal and family cancer risk through genetic tests enables patients to choose from a wide range of risk reduction preventative actions and procedures, such as chemoprevention or surgery. It can also motivate individuals to increase self-examinations and check-ups and make healthier lifestyle choices.

As Ms. Jolie rightly pointed out in her New York Times op-ed piece, “My Medical Choice,” compared to her, low-income, underinsured, and minority individuals have limited access to GCRA services. Facilitating access for high-risk, underserved Latinas who have a disproportionate burden of cancer and risk is vital if we are to address health care disparities in the community and begin to reduce their breast cancer incidence and mortality rates.

In addition to these disparities, Latinas are often their own worst enemy. “Studies show that Latinas are more likely than non-Latina whites to fear cancer and to have fatalistic attitudes about it,” adds Dr. Weitzel. “It is a matter of debate, however, whether such fatalistic attitudes deter cancer prevention. This fatalismo (fatalism) encompasses complex belief systems that integrate notions about heredity and legacy, topics of central importance to the community.”

For more information about contributor, Dr. Jeffrey Weitzel, please visit the website and/or email Isabel Goitia at or call 678-520-6429.


We’re not just talking about the issues. We’re solving them.

With the goal of developing a culturally-relevant content and communications platform to advance clinical care, research, prevention, education, mental health, financial well-being, nutrition, fitness and outreach to the Latino community, HealthyHispanicLiving (HHL) was launched. As the first-ever preventive care online educational platform targeted to U.S. Hispanics, our aim is to guide Hispanics to live healthier lives and to ensure preventive care engagement and accountability by changing the conversation about health from illness to wellness and providing solutions.

Representing 17% of the U.S. population (55 million people), these are the current Hispanic tension points that need to be addressed:

  •     Lack of targeted healthcare information for Hispanics
  •     Not enough outreach from the medical to the Hispanic community
  •     Hispanics have a higher risk of preventable disease, injury, and death
  •     Low vaccination rates contributing to preventable diseases in Hispanics
  •     Hispanics need to receive health information in a more timely manner
  •     The obesity epidemic hit the Hispanic population fast and hard

To develop solutions to these tension points, HHL has brought together healthcare thought-leaders who can provide culturally-relevant insights in order to shift the narrative about Hispanics with the aim of providing real-life solutions and tips to inspire individuals and families to lead healthier lives. To learn more about HHL, visit us at:

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