(WHTM) — Community groups in the Midstate are trying to tackle disparities in cancer treatment in the Hispanic community, part of a years-long partnership with Penn State.
These efforts ramped up in 2018. That’s when the Hispanic Latino Community Cancer Advisory Board (CAB) was formed, and people on the board said they are already seeing a difference.
For Sol Rodríguez-Colón, personal experience sparked her interest in cancer research.
“My father was diagnosed with cancer in 2016,” Rodríguez-Colón, who works at the Penn State Office of Cancer Health Equity, said.
Rodríguez-Colón was already doing public health research at Penn State. Her father recovered, but it got her thinking about cancer in the Hispanic community.
“I think there is a lot of misinformation, I would say, in the community. Also, when you mention the word cancer, it’s a word that nobody wants to hear,” she said.
Rodríguez-Colón said the community also faces barriers to care like financial hardship and lack of access to transportation.
“[The] language factor is a big barrier in the Hispanic community, especially those that have recently moved to the US,” she said.
With all this in mind, Rodríguez-Colón created the Hispanic Latino Community Cancer Advisory Board (CAB) to tackle these health disparities.
“The best way was to talk to community members and community organizations who are in connection with the community all the time,” she said.
About a dozen organizations make up the advisory board, including the Latino Hispanic American Community Center (LHACC).
“One of our goals is to address health disparities and to create a better quality of life for our community,” LHACC executive director Gloria Vázquez Merrick said.
With help from organizations like LHACC, the advisory board hosts Spanish language webinars, which they started during COVID. They also have been holding “Breast Cancer Bingo” where they educate women about breast cancer, risk factors and encourage early screenings.
Merrick said she can help build trust around those screenings and encourage community members to take care of their health.
“They think the worst case scenario, rather than thinking, ‘Oh, this is going to help me,'” she said. “When they know that the Latino Center’s involved, for some reason, they feel like this is going to be a good thing.”
Merrick also brings doctors directly to the community center.
“We’re cutting through barriers by just being here and bringing the people to us that can help our seniors,” she said.
Marcela Diaz Myers, co-chair of the advisory board, said, “If out of the 50 women that we have in a class, one gets diagnosed earlier, then that’s a win.”
Members of the board sad results so far are exciting. They are seeing more women get mammograms. They are also seeing more men getting screened for colorectal cancer and taking part in research on prostate cancer.