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FIU Cancer Study Focuses On Vulnerable Latino Transgender Populations In Miami, San Juan

TransLatina Project, a South Florida advocacy group for Latina transgender women, meets in 2015. A new study led by Florida International University researchers will focus on educating transgender Latino people about the importance of cancer screenings.
Ricardo Montalvan
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A team of researchers at Florida International University and two other colleges is hoping to find out what barriers are keeping Latino transgender people from getting screened for breast and cervical cancer and better educate that population about their risks of developing the diseases.

The study, which will focus on the Latino transgender populations in Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, is being funded with a nearly $400,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health.

“Transgender men and transgender women have been under-studied with regard to reproductive cancer risk, and there is very little information on how the disease affects their lives,’’ Sheilla Rodriguez Madera, FIU social science professor and principal investigator on the study, said in a news release. “Cancer screening is one of the most important behaviors for the prevention of this condition.’’

Transgender men who still have the genatalia and reproductive organs they were born with face increased risks of cervical cancer, according to the World Health Organization. Transgender women could also be at risk of breast cancer if they use hormones like estrogen. But transgender people aren't getting screened for these cancers often enough — sometimes because they don't seek the care, and sometimes because they are excluded from it.

"If transgender men haven't had the double mastectomy or the hysterectomy, they need to go to the gynecologist and have the pap screens," said Alíxida Ramos, a professor at Ponce Health Sciences University in Puerto Rico and another lead researcher on the study. "And that is not happening regularly."

Also, cancer is one of the leading causes of death among Latinos. So Latino transgender people are especially vulnerable.

Ramos said the scientists are in the process of identifying participants for the study and beginning to interview them. She wants to ask about their histories of using hormones, their experiences with healthcare professionals and if there are any cultural factors affecting their access to care.

After the initial stage, the team will develop an online questionnaire in order to reach a larger group of people.

The study is being conducted through a partnership with FIU and Ponce Health Sciences University as well as the University of California at San Francisco.

Ramos said there's little data available on the risk of cancer for transgender people.

"The focus has always been on stigma reduction, on gender-affirming care — meaning, [the use] of hormones and bodily modification — and also the prevention of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases," she said. "So cancer has not been a priority until now."

Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Jessica Bakeman reports on K-12 and higher education for WLRN, south Florida's NPR affiliate. While new to Miami and public radio, Jessica is a seasoned journalist who has covered education policymaking and politics in three state capitals: Jackson, Miss.; Albany, N.Y.; and, most recently, Tallahassee.