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During Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, Prioritize Your Health

Komen Scholar Ben Park, MD, PhD


Regular breast cancer screenings can save lives, which is why it’s important to prioritize breast health and get regular screenings. It’s important to know your risk and your family history. Early detection and effective treatment can save lives 

But what happens when your family may not be willing to speak openly about their health? 

Komen Scholar Ben Park, MD, PhD, is with the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. “It’s somewhat of a cultural dynamic that you don’t speak back to your parents in Asian societies. It can be challenging and it’s a perspective that I think a lot of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) women will face, is that they’re not made aware of their family’s health history, and even if they bring something up, someone in their family who is in that higher patriarchal role may just say, ‘oh, you’re fine. Don’t worry about it,’” said Park. 

“I think the message we need to get out is that mammograms can save your life,” he said. “Early detection is the key for a higher cure rate, period.” 

It’s important to increase awareness of breast cancer and the fact that anyone can get it. “Asian women can get breast cancer. It’s not a disease only for white women and Black women,” Park said. “It’s not just a disease of certain ethnicities and races, it is actually a disease of everyone, men and women, and all colors of skin.” 

It is also important for researchers and providers to make clinical trials more accessible for AAPI breast cancer patients. “It is very true that underrepresented minorities are usually very disproportionately underrepresented in clinical trials, but it’s also true in many studies that Asian women in breast cancer trials are also underrepresented,” he said. “We have to include everyone, including men and all the different ethnic groups, to get enough representation to say, ‘Hey, does this actually work for all the different ethnic groups and racial groups that we’re reporting that this should work for?’” 

Genetic counseling and testing can make an impact on breast cancer outcomes for the members of the AAPI community. “If we do genetic testing and we find, for example, a BRCA 1 or 2 mutation, that can have huge implications for testing family members, blood relatives to see if they’re also a carrier of that particular gene mutation because then we can implement screening and try to save lives.” 

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in Asian American and Pacific Islander women. Although Asian American women in the U.S. have similar screening mammography rates as Black, white and Latinx women, they have more delays in follow-up care after an abnormal mammogram than white women. Raising awareness of the importance of cancer screening and timely follow-up care after an abnormal mammogram for those in the AAPI community is an opportunity to advance health equity for all.