Spanish-only speaking women in the US get fewer mammograms

A new study finds that women in the United States who speak only Spanish are less likely to undergo screening for breast cancer.

Breast cancer does not always cause symptoms. For this reason, the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommend that women undergo screening mammograms.

When a doctor is able to detect breast cancer early, the chance of successfully treating it is higher.

A new study that researchers presented at the American College of Surgeons Clinical Congress 2020 finds that Spanish-only speaking women in the U.S. are less likely to undergo what can be lifesaving screenings.

“Spanish-only speakers appear to have a 27% less likelihood of having a screening mammogram than English speakers,” says lead study author Jose L. Cataneo.

Researchers have not previously reported on this language barrier to early detection, says Cataneo, who is a general surgery resident at the University of Illinois at Chicago. For the women this language barrier affects, however, the consequences can be life threatening.

According to senior study investigator Celeste Cruz, who is a breast surgeon at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago:

“Mammography screening overall really reduces the rate of advanced and fatal breast cancers by finding cancers when they are at earlier stages and highly treatable.”

According to Cataneo, U.S. Census Bureau estimates reveal why the shortfall in screenings for women with limited English proficiency (LEP) is a serious national problem.

“It is important,” he says, “because approximately 67 million people in the [U.S.] speak a language other than English, and 41 million of those speak Spanish.”

To arrive at their conclusions, the researchers analyzed 2015 data from the National Health Survey. This is an annual, nationally representative survey of civilian, non-institutionalized U.S. residents.

The authors of the study focused on women aged 40–75 years. This is the age group in which several organizations recommend undergoing yearly screening mammograms.

Among the pieces of information the survey respondents supplied was their primary language. Of the 9,653 women included in the study, 756 spoke only Spanish. Overall, 1,040 individuals described themselves as speaking only or mostly a language other than English, which the researchers used to define as having LEP.

The study found that 90% of proficient English speakers had received mammograms but that only 78% of the LEP group members had. Of the 936 LEP group members who reported mammogram information, 209 reported never having undergone a mammogram.

The study authors extrapolated this finding to the entire female population of the U.S. They estimate that in the age range of 40–75 years, 450,000 U.S. women eligible for mammograms have not undergone one — much less the recommended yearly screenings.

Further validating the study’s findings, the researchers analyzed the survey data taking into account age, insurance status, race/ethnicity, and family income, among other factors.

Spanish-only speaking women had a lower probability of undergoing a mammogram. For each 100 proficient English-speaking women who undergo mammograms, only 73 Spanish-only speaking women do.

Both the ACS and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommend undergoing

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