Health researcher Sara Gomez-Trillos has helped to increase awareness and use of genetic counseling and testing for Latina women who are at increased risk for Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome (HBOC), work that may one day benefit her home country of Colombia.
Gomez-Trillos, who is a research specialist and project coordinator at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in Washington DC, says a team led by Dr Alejandra Hurtado de Mendoza culturally adapted and tested a telephone genetic counseling (TGC) protocol and educational booklet for Spanish-preferring Latina breast cancer survivors.
“Our TGC protocol and booklet are the first to be developed for a Latina population specifically and to be tested in Spanish,” Gomez-Trillos says.
BRCA1 (BReast CAncer gene 1) and BRCA2 (BReast CAncer gene 2) are genes that help suppress tumors and when people who inherit damaged copies of these genes, they have an increased risk of several cancers including breast and ovarian cancer.
Because of the genetic nature of this disease it can be useful for patients to have access to genetic counseling, that is where someone at risk of passing on an inherited disorder can access professional advice.
“Our cultural adaptation of TGC can increase the reach and quality of care for Latinas at increased risk for HBOC, thus promoting health equity,” Gomez-Trillos says.
Global South Perspective
Gomez-Trillos was born and raised in Medellin, Colombia, moving to the United States at age 18 to to pursue her education at the University of Virginia, where she started conducting research on development, social relationships, and their impact on physical health.
Gomez-Trillos says the availability of genetic services for hereditary cancer varies widely between countries in Latin America.
“In Colombia, it is increasingly common, especially in the larger cities and institutions, but there are still many inequities on who is aware of these services and who can access them,” she says, “Additionally, because of the pandemic, telephone genetic counseling is now being used as standard clinical care.”
Gomez-Trillo says the TGC protocol and booklet the team developed is targeted to tap into important cultural values and be accessible to those with lower literacy.
“Therefore for a country such as Colombia, it may increase the reach to people who live in rural areas where geneticists are not available locally,” she says.
Gomez-Trillo also says this kind of intervention could also improve other factors like communication, quality and understanding of genetic risks.
“When we talk about health it’s important to understand the culture, values, beliefs, and traditions in addition to understanding the resources available,” she says, adding that including Global South scientists in decision-making will result in appropriate, tailored, creative, and effective solutions; as well as improving equity.
Another Latina engaged in the fight for equity in cancer treatment is Mexican scientist Dr Carla Daniela Robles-Espinoza.
Robles-Espinoza, an assistant professor at the International Laboratory for Human Genome Research (LIIGH), at Mexico’s National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), returned to her home country of Mexico to help unlock the genetic mysteries of acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM), which occurs mostly on the hands and feet and is found in populations in Latin America, Africa and Asia.