Grant to aid cancer prevention in region's Hispanics

YAKIMA -- The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle has received a $4.7 million grant for cancer prevention programs aimed at the Hispanic population in central Washington's Yakima Valley, an agricultural hub that is home to thousands of Hispanic farm workers and their families.

The goal of the programs is to increase awareness and educate Hispanic women about cancer screening, prevention and treatment, with a particular focus on cervical, breast and colorectal cancers.

The grant builds on a $2.4 million, five-year study, which began in 2005 and has reached more than 25,000 community members, with research programs to track the effectiveness of educational programs. The new grant also enables the program to expand to neighboring Franklin County, also an agricultural region with a high population of Hispanic farm workers.

"Hispanics are consistently lower in screening for cervical, breast and colorectal cancers," said Dr. Beti Thompson, lead investigator for the grant and a member of the Hutchinson Center's Public Health Sciences Division. "This is a sizable amount of money going into the community to try to address that, and we're very excited about it."

Hispanic women have a lower rate of breast cancer than white women, but Hispanic women are one-and-a-half times more likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer than white women, according to the National Cancer Institute. The rates at which they died from the disease also deviated from white women and rose significantly after age 35.

"One of the problems we see is that if someone who is Latino is less likely to have long-term survival," Thompson said. "Their cancers are discovered later, and some of them, especially breast cancer, are more aggressive."

The grant includes money for research to measure success of the intervention efforts to increase the rates of cancer screening, programs to continue to educate and raise awareness, a pilot program to improve the quality of life for cancer survivors, and efforts to get women who have an abnormal test to return for diagnosis and treatment.

"Often, what happens with the Latino population, they get tested, they have an abnormal test, and they just don't come back," Thompson said. "We're trying to assign a person who is linked to the patient throughout the entire process. It's somebody who takes some of the mystery out of that process."

Partners in the study include the Yakima Health District and the nonprofit Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic, which was incorporated in 1978 to provide health care for migrant and seasonal farm workers and low-income families.

Today, the clinic provides services at more than a dozen offices in Washington and Oregon.

The health district's role is to set up focus groups or interview women who have had abnormal cervical screenings to determine what they need to know and what they think would have made them react more quickly to a diagnosis, said Jensen Thayer, breast and cervical health program supervisor.

About 70 percent of the women served by the district are Hispanic, and about 30 percent of the women served have rarely or never been screened for cervical cancer, she said.

In addition to providing treatment, the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic recruits patients to educate them about the process.

Stella Vasquez, director of program operations for the clinic, said preliminary data from the first study suggests about a 25 percent increase in cancer screening among women who had been informed about it, either in a face-to-face interview or by viewing an educational video.

"The success rate in just about all cancers, if it's detected early and treated early, is high," she said. "That's the goal."