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NMSU professor uses research to promote breast cancer awareness

Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for Hispanic woman, plus it's the second leading cause of cancer death for women overall. Despite these facts, one New Mexico State University professor says women are still not getting as much information as they should from their mothers about the disease.


Photo of Cynthia Kratzke.
Cynthia Kratzke, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Science in NMSU's College of Health and Social Services. Her pilot survey showed that only 33 percent of college-aged women get advice from their mothers about breast cancer prevention and detection. (NMSU photo)

"To me, it was kind of staggering," said Cynthia Kratzke, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Science in NMSU's College of Health and Social Services. Her pilot survey showed that only 33 percent of college-aged women get advice from their mothers about breast cancer prevention and detection. And, to make matters worse, the information those women receive isn't always complete.

In contrast to the low number of women who receive breast cancer information from their mothers, Kratzke found a high percentage of college women - about 70 percent - knew someone with breast cancer.

"I don't think mothers like to talk about cancer, in general," she said. "For some cultures, there's a fear that if you talk about cancer, you draw it to you. You would think the mother in the family would be the communicator, the advocate."

Kratzke's research began as an effort to examine health disparities along the U.S./Mexico border. Often, the same health issues will impact various groups differently, depending on their ethnicity, where they live, their socioeconomic background, and other factors. The issue of health disparities is one the NMSU College of Health and Social Services is actively trying to address.

"For Hispanics, breast cancer prevention might not be a topic discussed in the family," she said. "But then again, what I'm finding suggests it might not be a topic discussed among other groups either."

Kratzke came to NMSU in 2009. Her specialty is health communication, or how information about disease prevention and well being is relayed from person to person. For this study, she received a "rising star" grant from the university to look specifically at the mother/daughter transfer of medical information for Hispanic and non-Hispanic college women. Her goal is to increase breast cancer awareness among college women. She also wants to see if the information transfer goes the other way too; whether daughters are proactive in telling their mothers about breast cancer as well.

"From a health care provider perspective, young women normally go for a yearly check-up," she said. "If the doctor recommends the self-exam, they are more likely to take it seriously. Five to 10 years ago, that wasn't the case."

She recently presented her findings with her colleague, Hugo Vilchis, at the American Association of Cancer Research conference in Chicago, a large event that often attracts more than 17,000 participants. She is also increasing the sample size of participants to see if her findings remain constant. She later plans to expand her research to look at other campuses in the Southwest and help to develop web-based information to help increase awareness.