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Researchers Explore Role of Culture in Decision to Get a Mammogram

By Robin Hindery, UCSF Science Cafe | September 2, 2009

For the past seven years, a multidisciplinary team of UCSF researchers has attempted to understand why women choose to have or forego regular mammograms -- a simple and effective tool for detecting breast cancer -- and what role culture plays in that decision process.

The team, led by health disparities expert Rena Pasick, DrPH, is charting new territory by using anthropology, psychology and behavioral science to evaluate the appropriateness of longstanding elements of behavioral theory, and to examine the connections between social context and the use of mammography.

"A certain set of theories has always been applied to explain mammogram use and to inform our efforts to promote regular mammography," said Pasick, a professor of medicine and associate director of Community Education and Outreach at the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.

"But these theories were tested and developed with mainstream middle-class white women, and a lot of public health specialists have been questioning whether or not they are universally appropriate," she said.

To try to answer that question, Pasick and her colleagues chose to focus on Latina and Filipina women who were participating in a concurrent intervention trial of 1,463 women from five different ethnic groups. That larger study -- also led by Pasick and funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) -- was investigating whether tailored interventions would lead to an increased use of mammography and Pap smears, two tests that can detect cancer in its early stages.

In the theory study, titled "Behavioral Constructs and Culture for Cancer Screening," Pasick and her team conducted in-depth interviews about mammogram use with scholars, community gatekeepers, lay women and mother-daughter pairs of Latina or Filipina descent.

Read more at Robin Hindery, UCSF Science Cafe