Foreign-born women lagging behind US peers in breast cancer screening rates

Breast is the leading cancer killer for Hispanic women in the U.S., and it ranks second among white, black and Asian populations. Incidence of the disease and receipt of crucial mammography screening are often impacted by whether a woman was born in a foreign country, which can snowball into disparities in treatment outcomes.

There’s been little research conducted on this phenomenon. But investigators with the National Center for Health Statistics recently dived into the data and found clear disparities between immigrants and U.S.-born women, according to their study, published Wednesday, Oct. 9, in the National Health Statistics Reports.

Overall, they the authors found that about 88% of foreign-born women were likely to have a mammogram in their lifetime, compared to 94% for their American-born counterparts. Immigrant women who have lived in the U.S. for less than 25% of their lives are even less likely to have ever had a mammogram (76%) or meet treatment recommendations suggested by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (55%).

This presents both a challenge and an opportunity for imaging professionals, wrote Tainya Clarke, PhD, with the NCHS, and colleagues.

“Understanding the screening experience of foreign-born women compared with U.S.-born women is important because immigrant women may not be exposed to the same level of public health messaging or screening opportunities in their home countries,” the study stated.

Clarke and company came to their conclusions by analyzing survey data from nearly 30,000 women, ages 50 to 74, who have participated in the National Health Interview Survey in recent years. They further separated the results by nativity, birthplace and percentage of life spent in the United States.

Past studies have noted that, absent any cultural barriers, immigrant women may be more receptive to physician recommendations when compared to those in the U.S. Clarke noted that foreign-born women from mostly Spanish-speaking regions actually had a higher prevalence of adherence to USPSTF recommendations than others populations, the study found.  

The authors speculated that this difference may be attributed, in part, to targeted efforts in some states to reach Spanish-speaking patients. They did not speculate further on causes of the foreign-born mammography gap, but believe this initial analysis opens the door for further investigation.

“The inability to further assess differences by birthplace and percentage of lifetime in the United States due to sample size precludes further assumptions related to mammography screening and birthplace in this report. However, these findings may inform future research,” they concluded.