Many native Spanish speakers unaware of breast density information

Spanish-speaking women are faced with unique challenges when receiving information such as dense breast notifications (DBN) and mammogram results, according to new research published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

“Legislation requiring mammography facilities to notify women if they have dense breast tissue found on mammography has been enacted in 34 U.S. states,” wrote lead author Christine M. Gunn, PhD, of the Boston University School of Medicine and the School of Health, and colleagues. “The impact of dense breast notifications on women with limited English proficiency is unknown.”

Gunn and colleagues sought to better assess Spanish-speaking women’s experiences receiving dense breast notifications in a Massachusetts safety-net hospital, completing audio-recorded interviews. The interviews were conducted with a native Spanish-speaking research assistant who was trained in qualitative methods.

A total of 19 women aged 40-74 with normal mammography results who recalled receiving a DBN participated. The interviewer spoke about what the women recalled from the letter, how it made them feel and what actions they took regarding their dense breast notification.

Seventy-nine percent of women had never heard of dense breasts until they received the notification, and some women reported not receiving the notification in their native language. The four main themes that emerged were:

  • The novelty of breast density contributed to notification-induced confusion.
  • Women misinterpreted key messages in the notification.
  • Varied actions were taken to seek further information.
  • Women held unrealized expectations and preferences

"I hope this study highlights the challenges of implementing laws that require very specific medical communications, especially for groups that may be more vulnerable to systems designed for majority populations," Gunn said in a prepared statement.

Though the study focused specifically on non-English speaking women, this study can be extrapolated to all women who receive mammograms.

"Patients should be aware that there are state laws that require doctors to give them this information,” Gunn said. “They should ask their doctors about what it means for them and their chances of developing breast cancer."