Breast cancer screening numbers drop for one AZ health-based organization following immigration law passing

By Tamerra Griffin, shades Magazine

During the month of October, traditional holiday hues of orange and black are forced to compete with the presence of pink as countless cities nationwide celebrate National Breast Cancer Month.

And in Maricopa County, Arizona – which includes the greater Phoenix area – a number of survivors owe their lives to organizations like Sistas of AZ. The mission of this fast-growing volunteer group is to promote healthy lifestyles and overall wellness among women of color.

The Sistas’ primary focus this month is PINK 365 – a program that provides women with breast health outreach education and free mammograms held in a mammography Motor Coach. PINK 365 is specifically designed to benefit women who are uninsured or underinsured and typically, these women are of Latino and African American descent.

But despite the expanse and influence of the Sistas of AZ, there are still obstacles that stand in the way of these women receiving such vital screenings.

Sistas of Az founder Tina Brown

Tina Brown, executive director of Sistas, was quick to point out the negative impact that Arizona’s immigration law has had on the participation of Latinas seeking to receive mammogram screenings. According to Brown, women in the local Hispanic community have been the most eager ethnic group to participate in the PINK 365 programs, in spite of the fact that Sistas was originally created to serve African-American women. Any time Sistas has partnered with the Spanish-speaking media to advertise its events, the turnout has been remarkable.

However, when the Arizona state senate passed SB1070 in April, Brown immediately detected a dramatic decline in patient turnout. The bill – which allows police officers to detain anyone suspected of having entered this country illegally – had a severely negative effect on Latinas seeking medical care (the law has since been modified, but still threatens civil rights, opponents say).

Brown recalls one particular breast-screening event in Mesa, east of Phoenix, which took place shortly after the bill was passed.

“Normally if Hispanic women make an appointment [for a mammogram],” Brown said, “they will keep it, always. But out of the 50 women who scheduled, maybe 25 showed up, and it was an event specific to Hispanics.

“I called some of the women and asked why they hadn’t showed up, and they said they were afraid of getting caught.”

In order to combat this fear, Brown sent a message to the women that they needn’t worry about possible deportation if they sought a free breast screening.

“Our goal is to save lives,” Brown said. “We don’t ask about immigration status.”

The reasons behind low patient turnout among African American women, however, are less political and more societal.

Eva Whelan, who oversees licensing and credentialing at Assured Imaging – the business that provides the Motor Coaches out of which PINK 365 operates – said this issue is not new.

“Historically, that has been the case. Part of it is a lack of patient education and resources,” Whelan said.

Furthermore, the government, in an attempt to save money on health care, recently issued a statement suggesting that women need only receive breast screenings biannually and not until the age of 50. But according to the American Cancer Society, there has been an average of 21.8 female deaths due to breast cancer in America between 2002 and 2006.

Brown said she believes those numbers are easily preventable.

“It makes me so angry,” she said. “Mammograms are a way to detect breast cancer. It’s all about getting the word out.”

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One Response to “Breast cancer screening numbers drop for one AZ health-based organization following immigration law passing”

  1. William Brown October 6, 2010 at 3:05 pm #

    Great article…It rings very true with our current reality in AZ.

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