Jeffrey Weitzel, M.D., chief of City of Hope’s Division of Clinical Cancer Genetics, hopes his work will give many Latinas the boost they need to outsmart cancer.
|Jeffrey Weitzel (Photo by Alicia Di Rado)|
More Latinas lose their lives to breast cancer each year than any other form of cancer. Many of these women carry certain genetic mutations that put them at higher risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers, according to Weitzel, who also directs City of Hope’s Cancer Screening & Prevention ProgramSM.
Unfortunately, many are unaware of the mutations. Or they have no access to care, including genetic cancer risk counseling.
Weitzel’s hoping to counter that with the help of a new study. He and his colleagues will look at whether culturally sensitive outreach and education can improve Latinas’ participation in genetic counseling for cancer risk.
Weitzel’s research has shown that certain Latinas — women of Latin American and/or Spanish descent — with breast or ovarian cancer are more likely to have certain mutations that can greatly increase their risk of developing the diseases.
Genetic risk assessment can uncover whether a woman has these mutations. And genetic counseling helps them learn about their heredity and personal cancer risk factors, and how to manage that risk.
Weitzel and his colleagues have found that Latinas who received counseling acted on the advice they received and took appropriate actions to safeguard their health. Unfortunately, many Latinas skipped the potentially lifesaving consultation.
The team’s studies have shown that women find the waiting time before a risk assessment to be stressful. That might be what puts them off their first appointment.
Weitzel’s group aimed to remove the fear factor. They tested whether a phone call in advance of the appointment, using a technique called adapted motivational interviewing, could improve attendance at screenings.
“We found that 88 percent of patients who received the phone call attended their screening appointment,” Weitzel said — a marked improvement. Based on these findings, he and his colleagues will expand the concept and evaluate whether a phone intervention that is culturally appropriate can raise the likelihood women will attend their appointment. They’ll also check to see if it lessens the women’s anxiety before the screening and boosts their knowledge of cancer genetics.
The team will collaborate with Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center and Olive View-UCLA Medical Center.
Weitzel noted that improved use of genetic counseling among Latinas has great potential to reduce breast cancer incidence and deaths in an underserved population. The assessments use women’s family history, their genetics and environmental and lifestyle factors to point out personal cancer risk. With this information, professionals can help women outsmart cancer by taking steps to deter the disease, such as preventive surgery, medications or more frequent screenings.
For more information on genetic risk assessment, visit the Cancer Screening & Prevention Program website at www.cityofhope.org/cspp.