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Am J Prev Med. 1997 Mar-Apr;13(2):137-42.

Knowledge, behavior, and fears concerning breast and cervical cancer among older low-income Mexican-American women.

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Texas Department of Health, Austin, USA.



Although recent studies have documented the low participation level of Hispanic women in cancer screening, few have examined their predisposing knowledge and attitudes concerning cancer. We documented the knowledge and fears concerning cancer of an older population of Mexican-American women and how these factors relate to screening behavior and sociodemographic characteristics.


The data are from baseline surveys conducted before the start of a community cancer awareness and prevention program. Nine hundred twenty-three Mexican-American women were interviewed in-person about their knowledge, attitudes, and Pap smear and mammogram screening practices.


Knowledge and attitude about cancer varied with age, education, type of health insurance, ability to speak English, and place of birth. Women 65 years of age and older were least knowledgeable of cancer-detection methods and screening guidelines. Those with only Medicare or Medicaid knew far less even compared to uninsured women. Women who did not speak English well were more likely not to know the cancer signs and symptoms, risk factors, and screening guidelines. Women who had knowledge of guidelines and detection methods were more likely to have had a recent screening. Older Mexican-American women with more fatalistic and fearful attitudes toward cancer were less likely to have had a recent Pap smear.


The low screening participation among Mexican-American women may be due to their limited awareness and knowledge about breast and cervical cancer screening examinations. Our study highlights the need for wide-scale cancer screening interventions consistent with Mexican-American beliefs.

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