Study: Mexican-American Women Get Breast Cancer Earlier

A survey of Mexican-American women in Harris County has found that they are diagnosed with breast cancer at younger ages than other white women. The finding suggests that screening and outreach for this growing population needs to improve. KUHF health science and technology reporter Carrie Feibel explains.
Previous studies have shown that Hispanic women have different experiences with breast cancer than non-Hispanic white women. Hispanic women don’t get the disease as often, but when they do they are diagnosed later, when the tumors are larger. And they are more likely to die from the disease.

“This is clearly an understudied and underserved population and right now they are the majority of the population in Harris County and will be increasing nationally.”


Melissa Bondy is an epidemiologist with M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She and some colleagues decided to study breast cancer in local Hispanics after a national task force recommended that women begin regular mammograms at age 50, instead of age 40. This recommendation caused a national outcry last November. M.D. Anderson has not adopted the guideline.

“If the U.S. and insurance companies adopted these recommendations we wanted to know how many women of Mexican descent would be missed, if they decided to start screening at age 50.”

The new study appears in the medical journal Cancer. Bondy says the results are troubling.

“Half of our population was diagnosed under the age of 50 so that means they wouldn’t have been eligible for regular routine screening.”

Among white women, the median age of breast cancer diagnosis is 61. But this study showed that for Mexican-American women, it is age 50. Bondy says it’s not clear why Mexican-American women are getting breast cancer at younger ages. One theory is that they have children earlier in life.

“These women are having their babies much younger, so there could be something going on with that age of first live birth. So we’re thinking there’s something with hormonal activity.”

But that’s just one possibility. The study also suggests that Hispanic women who adopt American lifestyles and habits increase their risk of breast cancer. Bondy would like to see more research into the reasons. But she hopes that insurance companies take into account her findings that this ethnic group might need mammograms at younger age.

For more information about the study, visit www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2010-09/uotm-tsn090110.php.
Bio photo of Carrie Feibel

Carrie Feibel

Health & Science Reporter

Carrie Feibel is KUHF's health and science reporter. She comes to Houston Public Radio after ten years as a print reporter...