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Press Release

March 19, 2003
Contact: Mary Kay Sones
(770) 488–5131

Hispanic Women in Border States Less Likely to Receive Screening for Breast and Cervical Cancers

Hispanic women, particularly those who live in counties along the U.S.-Mexico border, are less likely than non-Hispanic women to undergo routine screenings for breast and cervical cancers, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The women least likely to be screened are Hispanic women aged 65 years or older, yet women in this age group are at greater risk for both cancers compared to younger women. Lack of access to health care services in the border region and the need for culturally sensitive and appropriate preventive health care in the United States may partly account for lower cancer screening rates among Hispanic women.

"CDC funds breast and cervical cancer prevention activities in all 50 states providing life-saving screening for low-income women," said Dr. Julie Gerberding, CDC director. "The results of this study underscore the need to reach more women in the border areas. Early detection through screening is our best defense against breast and cervical cancers."

The study found that nearly 61 percent of Hispanic women living in border states had household incomes of $15, 000 or less. According to U.S. government statistics, more than a third of border families live at or below the poverty line, and the unemployment rate is 2.5 to 3.0 times higher than in the rest of the United States.

Surveys conducted during 1999 and 2000 in border counties in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas found that Hispanic women in all age groups had lower rates of Pap tests for cervical cancer and mammography for breast cancer than did non-Hispanic women of the same age. For instance, 71 percent of Hispanic women aged 40-49 years had received a Pap test in the past three years, compared to 91 percent of non-Hispanic women in the same region. Also, fewer Hispanic women aged 40-49 (63 percent) received a mammogram in the past 2 years compared with 67 percent of non-Hispanic women. However, both cancer screening rates fell sharply for Hispanic women aged 65 or older. Only 47 percent of the Hispanic women in that age group received a Pap test compared with 82 percent of non-Hispanic women. Rates of mammography were also lower for older Hispanic women: 59 percent compared to 84 percent of non-Hispanic women.

"About 15 percent of the Hispanic women in border counties had never even had a Pap test, said Steven Coughlin, PhD, lead author of the report. “Since their risk of invasive cervical cancer is likely to be higher, we need to determine what factors might keep these women from getting routine cancer screenings, and look for ways to remove those barriers."

CDC is currently funding the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program ( to offer screening to low-income women, including women who are new immigrants. In addition to clinical breast exams, mammograms and Pap tests, the program ensures appropriate diagnostic follow-up, case management and assurances for medical treatment.

The full report on cancer screening in the U.S.-Mexico border counties is available in the April-June issue of the scientific journal, Family and Community Health.

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This page last updated March 19, 2003

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