20 years ago, Susan Matsuko Shinagawa’s surgeon told her that she didn’t need a biopsy, despite the fact that a sonogram had revealed the lump in her breast was a solid mass. Why? Because he thought that she was too young to have breast cancer, and because he was convinced that “Asian women don’t get breast cancer”. I’d never heard of this myth before, but maybe other APIAs have, because the CDC just came out with a study that shows that the Asian population in the US had significantly lower screening rates for breast, cervical, and colorectal (bowel) cancer compared to white and black populations in 2010.
64.1% of the Asians surveyed had been screened for breast cancer by mammography in the past 2 years, compared to a national average of 72.4%. For cervical cancer, 75.4% of the Asians surveyed had been screened for cervical cancer by Pap smear testing in the last 3 years (national average 83.0%). 41.3% of the Asians surveyed had been screened for colorectal cancer (national average 58.6%).
This study is especially relevant in the context of Komen announcing to end its funding for Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer examinations, referrals and education services (and then kind of taking it back?). Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood explained that “Over the past five years, Komen funds have enabled Planned Parenthood health centers to provide nearly 170,000 clinical breast exams and referrals for more than 6,400 mammograms”. One of the Komen grants had also funded Planned Parenthood’s outreach to the Vietnamese community through breast health education in hair and nail salons. Let’s hope that the public response and pressures can convince Komen to continue funding these breast health services!
My family and community never likes to talk about cancer, because it seems to be yet another taboo topic among Asian immigrant communities (at least the ones I’ve known). Which is probably why it never even occurred to me to get screened for breast cancer. But Susan Matsuko Shinagawa, a third-gen Japanese American woman, started to break through those taboos and myths 20 years ago by telling her story – and it still seems to be so relevant today. Is talking about breast cancer taboo in your families, too? Or is it just the people I know that absurdly seems to think that talking about cancer will somehow make us get cancer?
P.S. Of course, mammograms aren’t cheap, especially if one doesn’t have insurance. The CDC has some resources for uninsured and low-income women, though, so check them out!