Dr. Jennifer Son, 35, a Rockville resident, was treating a patient from El Salvador complaining of breast discomfort. The 64-year-old Salvadoran woman didn’t understand English and had felt pain in her breasts for months. Now, she was worried about the formation of a lump.
Son’s ability to speak with the woman in Spanish helped her feel confident enough to say that she feared getting a mammogram and the potential results she would obtain, Son said. The visit proved necessary as the woman was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“No one wants to have cancer, but once she got through the treatment, she realized that despite being a bumpy road requiring several medical appointments, we doctors, are there to ensure they live a long time,” said Son.
According to WebMD, Latinas account for 29 percent of the 24,000 new breast cancer cases diagnosed yearly. Per WebMD, the demographic tends to discover they have cancer in later stages when it’s more advanced, which is why early detection remains important. According to WebMD, the five-year survival rate for local breast cancer is 96 percent in Hispanic women.
Data from WebMD also reveals that Hispanic women in the U.S. have had a lower incidence of breast cancer than non-Hispanic ones. But that isn’t the reality all across the country. One 10-year study by WebMD found that in the newly diagnosed breast cancer population, 21.3 percent of Hispanic patients under age 50 had advanced breast cancer compared to 13.5 percent of non-Hispanic women.
After living in Montgomery County for about three years, Son said she’d realized three reasons Latino women are afraid of doctors related to breast issues: the language gap, a fear of mammograms for their potential results, and lack of health insurance. Health insurance could save women between $15,000-$55,000, which is approximately the cost of surgery depending on its complexity, Son said.
“Specifically, in the DMV area, a lot of Latinos don’t know the subject, even though there are a lot of MedStar Health locations. They don’t know what care they require or are supposed to be getting,” Son said.
Son wants Montgomery’s Hispanic population, comprising approximately 20.3 percent Latinos, to not be lerry of getting check-ups. “This is not going to kill them… it’s treatable,” Son said.
The Salvadoran patient is now in treatment and can return to her country, where she can do various activities like going for walks with her grandsons, going to the beach with her family, and even grocery shopping by herself that help her road to recovery, Son said.
Son, a Brooklyn, New York native is the daughter of two Guatemalan parents who only speak Spanish. Her father was an internal medicine doctor in Guatemala but couldn’t practice medicine in the United States due to his credentials not being valid.
Still, Son said her father’s career inspired her, particularly her desire to help the Latino community in the U.S. She graduated from Boston University School of Medicine in 2014. Her studies took her to various parts of the country like Chicago and San Francisco, where she specialized in oncology. In September 2020, Son moved to Rockville with her family, where she is now one of the few Spanish-speaking oncologists at MedStar Health in the Olney and Georgetown locations.
MedStar has several resources for Latinas with breast problems who don’t speak English. Social workers offer aid women by providing them with guidance and counseling so that they can provide solutions for their medical appointments and follow-ups if they don’t have enough resources or income to pay for their visits.
“We work with organizations like UniteforHer to give them that wellness aspect to access such as yoga and pilates classes, and even cookbooks to help them get that factor of a multidisciplinary approach to their breast cancer care,” said Son.
MedStar also partners with Catholic Charities, which helps the women with health insurance issues.
To continue commemorating Hispanic Heritage Month, which ends Oct. 15, and to celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Son will emphasize the importance of seeking care and not delaying it.
“Yes, it’s challenging, but there are so many resources, and it’s important to advocate for yourself and your loved ones,” Son said.
The “Breast Cancer and You” event will take place from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 17 at Silo Falls Restaurant on 19501 Georgia Ave in Brookeville. Between 80 to 120 people are expected to attend, according to Son.
“This is an opportunity to highlight those disparities, specifically in breast cancer and what’s happening in our Latino community,” Son added.
During the event, organizers are committed to encouraging the female population to get their breast cancer exams and educate them to help alleviate any fears and concerns, Son said that there is nothing to be afraid of. “By raising awareness and teaching them that breast cancer is a very treatable condition, we want to change that fearful scenario.”
“As a Latina, you have no idea how often I heard that I couldn’t be a doctor! But, yes, now I’m a surgeon, and yes, you can get your mammogram and be ready to get out of this condition,” Son said.