As Breast Cancer Awareness Month comes to a close, ongoing initiatives at the Mass General Cancer Center at Cooley Dickinson Hospital are aimed at enhancing awareness around appropriate screening and early detection—especially within vulnerable populations.

Specific programs are designed to reach the Latinx and LGBTQ communities, acknowledged by national statistics to demonstrate a low level of compliance when it comes to regular breast cancer screening. The guidelines for regular screening population-wide are already somewhat amorphous, notes Michelle Helms, MD, a breast surgeon at Cooley Dickinson. “The consensus points to mammography every one to two years starting at age 40,” she says. “We tell patients that it’s best to talk with your primary care physician about your specific health history and risk factors to determine the best screening schedule for you.”

For members of the LGBTQ and Latinx communities, identifying a screening schedule can be confounded by additional concerns, such as their levels of comfort in visiting a breast health center. “Many LGBTQ individuals are reluctant to go to an unfamiliar place where they’re not sure they will be greeted respectfully,” notes Aleah Nasteby, NP, Director of LGBTQ Health Services, Cooley Dickinson. “In addition, a dearth of research around screening for transgender individuals makes their guidelines even less clear.”

Barriers to regular screening for Latinx individuals extend to language and culture. “The language barrier often has a huge impact on communication as Latinx patients attempt to navigate the U.S. health system,” adds Emma Aldana, Medical Interpreter Services Manager, Cooley Dickinson. “In addition, many Latinas are working multiple jobs and have an inherent fear of cancer itself, so they avoid screening altogether."

To address these barriers, both Nasteby and Aldana have worked within their program areas to make regular mammography as accessible as possible for these populations. Nasteby participated in the design of the Breast Center at Cooley Dickinson to create signage and communication protocols that are friendly to LGBTQ individuals. Aldana has focused on ensuring that translation services are as readily available as possible—including the option for discreet video translation if privacy is of concern—and that awareness of screening’s role in saving lives is communicated in culturally sensitive ways.

“Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis among female patients,” notes Dr. Helms. “The earlier it’s found, the more treatment options we have—creating the best possible prognosis for patients. If you have concerns or questions about mammograms, the best thing you can do is talk to your doctor.”

Dr. Helms, Nasteby, and Aldana discussed breast cancer prevention and screening as part of Cooley Dickinson’s “Go Pink” partnership with WWLP-22News’ Mass Appeal program. Learn more here.