Improving minority healthcare: patient navigators

FRESNO, Calif.

Maria Gloria Sanchez likes to spend quality time in the kitchen with her family.

"Thank God, I'm here," Maria Gloria Sanchez told Action News.

Maria wasn't sure she would be after finding out she had breast cancer a few years ago. Hispanic women have lower rates of breast cancer compared to white and black women. Still, breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among Latinas. Maria's daughter did not want her mom to become a statistic.

"We have never been exposed to anything like that," Selene Elias, Maria's daughter, said.

Low screening participation is one reason Hispanic women are more likely to be diagnosed at a more advanced stage. Language barriers with their doctors can make things even worse.

Right after Maria was diagnosed, she was contacted by a patient navigator or promotora. Bilingual, bicultural patient navigators like Guadalupe Cornejo are stationed at cancer centers in a handful of U.S. cities with large Latino populations. They're helping Hispanics with cancer fill out important medical forms, make doctors appointments, and arrange transportation for treatment.

"Or just provide that emotional support. A lot of patients do like that," Guadalupe Cornejo, a patient navigator, said.

"Patient navigators are out there saving lives," Sandra San Miguel de Majors, MS, of the Institute for Health Promotion Research, said.

Sandra San Miguel de Majors helped develop the patient navigator project. The goal is to ensure Latinos get timely, potentially life saving cancer care.

"Because, often times, we lose them through the cracks. They don't come back. A lot of them don't speak English, so there's a lot of fears and myths," De Majors said.

Rudy Gamboa says his cultural connection to Guadalupe helps him feel less fearful dealing with colon cancer, a disease more than 5,000 Hispanic men are diagnosed with every year.

"I know that if I have any questions or if I need anything I can always call her and ask her and she'll be there," Rudy Gamboa said.

Maria is now cancer-free but stills turns to Guadalupe for help, and she's happy to make house calls. The patient navigator project is funded by the National Cancer Institute.

While it's coming to an end, funding from Lance Armstrong's Livestrong Foundation is helping keep promotoras in hospitals around the country.

Cliff Despres
Communications Manager
The Institute for Health Promotion Research,
(210) 562-6517

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