Ysabel Duron
Ysabel Duron, founder of Latinas Contra Cancer.

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)– Ysabel Duron is a journalist advocate based in San Jose, Calif. A Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor, she founded Latinas Contra Cancer (Latinas Against Cancer) in 2003 to address the void in cancer services for Latinos, particularly in the low-income, Spanish-speaking community. Following a distinguished career in journalism that spanned over four decades, Duron now devotes herself full time to this mission. She is the recipient of numerous awards for her work as a journalist and as an advocate. She was inducted into the National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ Hall of Fame in 2009. She is a past member of the board of the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship and the convener of the Biennial National Latino Cancer Summit.

Women’s eNews recently caught up with Duron in New York City, where she emceed the annual gala of Pro Mujer, an organization based here that promotes women’s self-empowerment in Latin America.

1. Latinas Contra Cancer has long emphasized the need for support services. What work have you done in this area?

As a population, roughly one-third of Latinos are disproportionately low income and face specific language and cultural challenges when it comes to health issues. There is a lot of fear and misinformation. For over a decade Latinas Contra Cancer has worked to promote cancer health screenings and early intervention. Our goal is to reduce the mortality rate from cancer among Latinos. Among other services, we host free clinics, help prepare medical forms in Spanish and transport women to clinics. Our goal for this year is to educate up to 200 women and achieve 40 mammograms. This may seem like a very modest number, but every Latina we get screened becomes one more Latina that potentially receives life-saving care. This is based on both government and American Cancer Society data that finds over 21 percent of Latino deaths are due to cancer. This is in a population of 54 million Latinos. Breast cancer is the number one cause of cancer death among Latinas. So while Latinos don’t have an overall higher cancer death rate than the mainstream it is disproportionate to the total size of their population.

2. Have you seen any progress in the past decade?

Hard figures are very hard to come by, but anecdotally I can say there has been some progress on all three fronts: screening, awareness and access. One of our most innovative initiatives has been breast health bingo, which we launched in 2005. With this tool, that uses the bingo game as a model, we have educated almost 3,200 women and men about cancer risk and healthy behaviors. Every year we increase the number of Latinas that undergo a clinical exam and get a mammogram. All over the country, the network of Latino organizations working in cancer issues, like La Liga in Miami, Latina Share in New York and Nueva Vida in Washington, D.C., has been growing steadily. LCC’s goal is to unite these groups into a coalition so that we can be a strong voice and advocate for this community nationwide, as cancer is now the leading cause of death among Latinos.

3. Why now add the focus on research in breast cancer among Latinas? Latinas are women, so why not just focus on women?

For many years I zeroed in on service to Latinas in need of help. But gradually I have come to realize that data and evidence are crucial to get the funding necessary to get the cancer message out to the Latino community. Particularly because there is biological evidence that breast cancer in Latinas presents unique characteristics. A recent study showed that there are two particular genetic markers in Latinas for the most common type of cancer. Additionally, Latinas show larger tumors at later stages and at an earlier age. We need to find out what is driving that. At the moment, there is not enough research to pinpoint an explanation. That is why, in addition to the support services we offer, Latinas Contra Cancer is also now pushing for research. Latinas, especially young Latinas, need to be forewarned, get genetic testing and know what to do about the results. They need to be informed about their family history.

4. What are the key obstacles that persist to effectively reduce the mortality rates for breast cancer among Latinas?

There are several challenges, but I will focus on the top five: the first is the silo mentality. We need to strengthen the network of Latino organizations working on cancer to make them more effective at the national level. Two, there is a critical need for culturally relevant services: Latinos are the most underrepresented minority group in the health care workforce nationwide. We must increase this pipeline. For example, the number of Latino oncologists who are equipped to manage linguistic and cultural barriers of Latino patients is desperately low. Three: We need to improve the science. Currently, Latinos represent only 2 percent of participants in clinical trials, not to mention that there are very few Latino scientists. Four: access to health insurance. Although the Affordable Health Care Act may be changing this situation in the near future, currently 61 percent of non U.S.-citizen immigrant Latinos do not have health insurance, according to Pew research. Five: funding, of course. Without funding none of the above will be possible.

5. What is the main message you want to drive?

I want Latinas to focus on the three GET plan: Get informed, get screened and get involved. You need facts to make educated decisions, you need to check yourself to know where you stand, because the more you delay the more difficult it will become to treat cancer successfully. And you can participate in a variety of ways, from donating money to donating time, in order to ensure that more Latinas can overcome the disease. Visit www.latinascontracancer.org for more information on what we do and how you can help yourself and your community. Don’t wait. Your health or the health of someone near and dear to you may depend on it.

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