Cancer is the leading cause of death among the Latino population, and an estimated 1 in 3 Latina women will cope with a cancer diagnosis at some point in her life. Because cultural differences influence stress perception, researchers at the University of South Florida and the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, undertook a study to evaluate the stressors these women experienced. Their eventual goal was to design appropriate educational programs for Latina women who have cancer. After their needs are identified, these programs could teach the women skills for managing their stress.

Regardless of what part of the world a woman comes from, a cancer diagnosis causes the same uncertainties and stresses experienced by other women worldwide. Dinorah Martinez Tyson, PhD, MPH, assistant professor in the College of Public Health, University of South Florida, is well aware of this. She and her colleagues recently conducted a study of Latina patients with breast cancer seeking insight into the everyday realities, concerns, and cultural perspective of these patients while they underwent chemotherapy.1 “We sought to contextually explore how sociocultural characteristics affect behavior and psychosocial processes by examining the stress management and information needs of Latinos,” explained Martinez Tyson.1


The researchers used focus groups and interviews of patients and providers to gather their data. Thirty-three participants, all breast cancer survivors who self-identified as Latina or Hispanic, were referred to the investigators by hospitals, clinics, and community organizations that work with cancer survivors. The criteria for inclusion were self-identification as Hispanic/Latina; a breast cancer diagnosis; Spanish-speaking; had undergone chemotherapy within the last 12 months; and were at least 18 years old.

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Most of the participants were born outside the United States, with one-third of them having lived in this country for less than 5 years. Almost half of the patients said Spanish was the only language they spoke. Most of the bilingual patients said they preferred to read information about their health in Spanish, irrespective of how well they spoke English.

The study also included ten key informants—female providers who worked closely with cancer patients in the Latina population. They were nurses, doctors, social workers, and leaders of support groups who worked at cancer centers, clinics, or community-based organizations. Six of the providers referred to themselves as Hispanic and were bilingual. They were included to corroborate and support the information provided by the patients.