Promotoras helping break language barrier in healthcare

A new position at hospitals is helping break language barriers for Hispanic cancer patients while working with them during their fight for survival.

Being diagnosed with cancer is overwhelming for anyone. Even more overwhelming is receiving that diagnosis and not speaking the native language, a challenge that some of the 50 million Hispanics in the United States may face.

Breast cancer survivor Maria Gloria Sanchez enjoys spending quality time in the kitchen with her family and thanks God that she's here.

A few years ago, Gloria Sanchez was diagnosed with breast cancer. A shock, as many Hispanic women have lower rates of breast cancer compared to Caucasian and African American women.

However, breast cancer still remains the leading cause of cancer death among Latinas. Gloria Sanchez's daughter, Selene Elias, did not want her mom to become a statistic.

"We have never been exposed to anything like that," said Elias.

One reason Hispanic women are more likely to be diagnosed at advanced stages of cancer is low screening participation. Language barriers with their doctors can make things even worse.

But, when Maria was diagnosed, she was contacted by a patient navigator or promotora

Promotoras are bi-lingual, bi-cultural patient navigators like Guadalupe Cornejo, stationed at cancer centers in a handful of cities with large Latino populations. Their job is to assist Hispanics diagnosed with cancer fill out important medical forms, make doctors appointments, arrange transportation for treatment, even providing emotional support.

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

San Miguel de Majors helped develop the Patient Navigator Project, which aims to ensure that Latinos get timely and potentially life saving cancer care.

"A lot of them don't speak English," said San Miguel de Majors. "There's a lot of fears and myths."

Rudy Gamboa, who was diagnosed with colon cancer, said that his cultural connection to Cornejo, his promotora, made him feel less fearful.

"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," said Gamboa.

Gloria Sanchez is now cancer free but stills turns to Cornejo for help, who is happy to make house calls.

The Patient Navigator Project is funded by the National Cancer Institute. Although funding that funding reaching its end, Lance Armstrong's Livestrong Foundation is helping keep the promotoras in hospitals around the country.

Research Summary:
Healthcare Gps: Patient Navigators

Background: According to the US Census Bureau, 45.5 million Americans, or 15% of the total U.S. population, identified themselves as Hispanic or Latino in 2007. Cancers for which rates are higher in Hispanics include stomach, cervix, liver, acute lymphocytic leukemia, and gallbladder. Language barrier has been a bug issue when it comes to a cancer diagnosis. The presence of patient navigation can be effective to remove barriers that limit the access to care in minority populations and can improve outcomes in Hispanic patients suffering from cancer. (Source:

Promotoras (Patient Navigators): In 2005, The National Cancer Institute awarded $25 million in 5-year grants to eight research institutions across the country. The goal was to develop innovative Patient Navigator Research Programs (PNRP) to help minorities and underserved cancer patients. Patient navigators help patients and their families manage cancer diagnoses and overcome barriers to obtaining timely and appropriate cancer care and treatment. The program focuses on four cancers for which screening tests are available: breast, cervical, prostate, and colorectal. (SOURCE:

The Focus: The program focuses on cancer patients from racial/ethnic minority groups, patients with low socioeconomic status, and patients from medically underserved areas. (SOURCE:

Lance Armstrong Foundation: The Lance Armstrong Foundation recently launched a Spanish version of the website to provide Spanish information on the common physical, emotional day-to-day concerns of Hispanic/Latino cancer survivors. also provides a path for survivors to connect with LiveStrong's free cancer survivor support services, along with one-on-one counseling services and help with financial, employment or insurance concerns. Plus, there is information about treatment options and connecting to new treatments in development.(SOURCE:

For more information, contact:
*Cliff Despres
Communications Manager
The Institute for Health Promotion Research,
(210) 562-6517

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