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MGH Hotline 06.04.10 According to the American Cancer Society, Hispanic Americans are the least likely of all racial and ethnic groups to use preventive cancer screenings.

Mental health and cancer screening among Hispanics

04/Jun/2010

Addressing disparities: From left, Alex Green, MD, MPH, DSC associate director, Pabon-Nau and Schapira

According to the American Cancer Society, Hispanic Americans are the least likely of all racial and ethnic groups to use preventive cancer screenings. Studies also have shown that Hispanics -- the fastest growing ethnic minority in the United States -- are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer at an advanced stage, have lower cancer survival rates than non-Hispanic whites and have high rates of anxiety and depression. To examine these health care disparities, Lina Pabon-Nau, MD, MPH, Aetna/MGH Disparities Solutions Center (DSC) health care disparities fellow, carried out extensive research looking into how anxiety and depressive symptoms might affect cancer screening in Hispanics of different levels of acculturation.

As part of the June 2 MGH Racial and Ethnic Disparities: Keeping Current seminar series sponsored by the DSC, Pabon-Nau presented her research, "Effect of Anxiety or Depression on Cancer Screening Among Hispanic Immigrants by Years in the United States," with Lidia Schapira, MD, medical oncologist for the Gillette Center for Breast Oncology at MGH, providing commentary following the presentation.

Pabon-Nau analyzed data from the 2005 and 2007 California Health Interview Survey, a random-dial telephone survey conducted in English and Spanish, and completed statistical analyses of the information. She confirmed that Hispanics have higher rates of anxiety and depressive symptoms than non-Hispanic whites and found that anxiety and depressive symptoms among Hispanics decrease with increasing years in the United States. She also confirmed that the rates of screening for colon, breast, cervical and prostate cancer were lower for Hispanics than non-Hispanic whites.

"Overall the conclusions of the study showed that anxiety symptoms have a negative effect on cervical cancer screening for Hispanics, while depressive symptoms have a negative effect on prostate cancer screening. After adjusting for anxiety or depressive symptoms, demographics and socioeconomic status, I found that newer immigrants are more likely to receive screenings for colon and breast cancer, compared to Hispanics who have been in the United States for a longer period of time," said Pabon-Nau.

"Dr. Pabon-Nau's research reminds us of the great variety we find within Hispanic cultures and the fact that immigrants have rich biographies that have an impact on their health behaviors," said Schapira. "I will definitely be using this new understanding in my practice."

Learn more about the Disparities Solutions Center.

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