The attitudes and cultural perspectives of Latinas undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer were explored in a recent study published in the Journal of Cancer Education (2015; doi: 10.1007/s13187-015-0844-x). The article also discusses their cancer experiences and the ways they manage stress associated with cancer.

Cancer is the most common cause of death among Latinos. It is estimated that one out of every three Latina women will be diagnosed with cancer during her lifetime. Given the increasing Latino population in the United States, more emphasis has to be placed on educating this population about cancer.

A total of 33 Latina patients with breast cancer were interviewed either during focus group sessions or in-depth interviews by researchers from the Moffitt Cancer Center and at the University of South Florida, both in Tampa, FL. The majority of the women were born outside of the United States and 45% of participants stated that Spanish was their only language.

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The team also interviewed 10 cancer care providers and advocates to assess their opinions about Latina cancer care and compare their responses to patient responses. Among the health care providers/advocates, 60% self-identified as Hispanic and were bilingual.

Both patients and care providers had some of the same opinions about the key problems facing Latina patients with cancer. They agreed that there is a lack of information for the Latina community about cancer and its treatment that can cause confusion and stress among patients when combined with communication barriers.

The researchers discovered several other issues that were important factors leading to stress for patients with cancer that were not mentioned by their providers. Many described family-related issues as important stress-inducers during cancer treatment, including fear of not being able to provide and care for their families, not wanting to be a burden to their family, and being far away from their native country and their families.

Despite these stress inducers, 64% of the patients stated that they had not received any type of stress management tools or information during their chemotherapy, though 95% of the patients believed that a stress management toolkit would have been helpful.

The researchers then asked the participants how they managed the stress associated with cancer. Latina patients and their providers stated that prayer, reading the bible, and spirituality helped reduce stress.

Spending time with family and trying to maintain a normal day-to-day routine was also given as a stress reducing option by both sets of participants. Techniques that were only mentioned by the patients included exercise, reading educational material, listening to music, staying positive, watching TV, and deep breathing exercises.

Researchers emphasized that educational material for Latina patients with cancer should be developed in their native language and written by writers who are familiar with their culture. It is important to consider regional variations within Latino communities throughout the United States, be inclusive of Latina families, and be cognizant of the attitudes, beliefs, and obligations of Latinas to their families.

Physicians and care providers must also be aware of the ongoing stresses associated with cancer treatment and the support systems that Latinas turn to in order to reduce stress.