August 22, 2016

Unique program at the UAB Cancer Center makes significant impact in the Latino community

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Sowing the seeds of health logo 2Sowing the Seeds of Health is a community-based educational program. The goal of the program is to reduce the incidence of breast and cervical cancer in Latina women via community health advisors.

Sowing the Seeds of Health, a cancer outreach program devised by the University of Alabama at Birmingham Comprehensive Cancer Center, has served more than 3,500 Latina women in six counties in Alabama and continues to demonstrate the need to navigate cultural differences in raising awareness about cancer detection.

Based on recent findings, Latinas are less likely to be screened for breast and cervical cancer than whites.

“The Latino community in particular faces a number of barriers to accessing screening services, such as insufficient information about the importance of cancer screening, lack of health insurance, gaps in knowledge about where to go for a mammogram or Pap test, and limited language proficiency,” said Allison McGuire, MPH, program director at the UAB Division of Preventive Medicine and UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. 

Although Latina women do have lower rates of breast cancer and breast cancer mortality compared to their African-American and white counterparts, breast cancer is still the most common cancer and the leading cause of cancer death among Latina women. Furthermore, Latina women tend to be diagnosed with more advanced breast cancers than are white women. This may be due to lower mammography rates, as well as more delays in follow-up after an abnormal mammogram.

When it comes to cervical cancer, Latinas are two times more likely to have cervical cancer than are white women and have 40 percent higher mortality. Foreign-born Latinas have the highest rates of never being screened with Pap tests, clinical breast exams and mammography when compared with United States-born Latinas and white women. What compounds the problem is that almost 50 percent of Latinos do not go to a doctor or clinic on a regular basis.

The UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center has long been recognized as a leader in community outreach, most notably for its work in increasing education and awareness of cancer in minority and underserved populations.

“We strive to develop and implement screening programs that meet the needs of these different communities, and take into account the entire continuum of care,” said Isabel Scarinci, Ph.D., MPH, professor in the UAB Division of Preventive Medicine and associate director of Globalization and Cancer at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Toward this goal, Scarinci and her team obtained a grant from the National Cancer Institute in 2003 to develop a community-based, culturally relevant educational program for Latinas in Alabama. This resulted in a successful evidence-based outreach program that has been maintained ever since with support from the Susan G. Komen North Central Alabama affiliate. Using the concept of “promotoras de salud,” or health promoters from the community, the program trains lay individuals from the Latino community with knowledge and skills necessary to promote health, prevent disease and encourage screening.

Annual educational luncheons are held in local churches where a Spanish-speaking health care professional educates participants about breast and cervical cancer, early detection, and screening. Women are also given the opportunity to schedule appointments for low-cost Pap tests, clinical breast exams and mammography screening at local hospitals and clinics via the Alabama Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. Navigators are then available to assist them with their appointment and follow-up needs.

“Through this initial connection, Latina immigrants become familiar with the health care system, and these clinics become their regular source of care,” Scarinci said. “That, in turn, facilitates engagement in regular cancer screenings and follow-up care. By empowering dedicated community health promoters, building screening infrastructure, and establishing effective partnerships with local health care facilities and utilizing existing resources, programs such as Sowing the Seeds of Health can aid in creating a bridge between health care providers and patients.”

Organizations supporting the Sowing the Seeds of Health program include Susan G. Komen North Central Alabama Affiliate, Brookwood Baptist Health, Alabama Regional Medical Services, Alabama Department of Public Health, Alabama Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, Huntsville Hospital, Central North Alabama Health Services, DCH Health System, Whatley Health Services, and Marshall Medical Center South.

“We are very thankful to all of our partners who have shared this vision with us, and have come together every year to provide the best services we can possibly give to these women who otherwise would not have access to breast and cervical screening,” Scarinci said.