A&M scholar innovating path to colorectal cancer prevention
Dr. Lei-Shih (Lace) Chen still can clearly remember visiting her grandmother as a young girl. The reason – because the visits were always at her grandmother’s home.
Her grandmother had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer at an early age, and lived with a colostomy bag which made her embarrassed to be seen in public, so she never left her home.
She lived with the disease for 20 years until the cancer spread to her uterus, and she passed away. Chen says the death came at a surprise to her.
“This was a big shock for me. Nobody talked about the problem of colorectal cancer,” Chen says.
Colorectal cancer is the third most diagnosed cancer in the U.S. according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is also the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths.
Chen studies colorectal cancer prevention as a scholar in the Department of Health and Kinesiology at Texas A&M University. Her goal – to bring information and resources of colorectal cancer to help others make informed decisions for prevention and care.
Chen’s research is innovating a path to colorectal cancer prevention. She partners with an organization called Light & Salt Association, a non-profit based in Houston that aids Chinese communities. One service Light & Salt offers is cancer prevention navigation.
She trains Chinese community health workers in collaboration with the Texas A&M School of Public Health. Once the community health workers complete 160 training hours, they are certified by the Texas Department of Health and Human Services to work in their communities.
The program is believed to be the first of its kind in the Chinese community and is something Chen says will help to bridge a gap.
“I’ve only trained 120 community workers and in six months they’ve already trained 1,500 Chinese residents. It’s incredible.”
The program provides Chinese American communities in Houston, Dallas and other Texas cities with guidance and resources of cancer screening and medical insurance.
Chen works with the program because she says there is often misunderstanding or stigmas of colorectal cancer in Chinese Americans.
A recent study by Dr. Oi-Man Kwok and Chen examined patient-provider communication of Chinese Americans family history of colorectal cancer what that meant for their quality of care.
The findings show Chinese Americans were less likely to reveal family history without probing questions from their PCPs. It also revealed men and younger generations of Chinese Americans were less likely to reveal a family history of colorectal cancer in the family.
She says one reason is because there is often a stigma in Chinese culture of revealing a family history of cancer.
“They don’t want to talk about cancer because it may be impolite or they feel like they will get cancer,” Chen says. “That is a cultural thing. If you go to a funeral, they will often speak very softly and tell you they passed away from cancer.”
Chen says another issue is a lack of family history. Since most of the participants in her studies had immigrated to the U.S., they had little knowledge of their family history back home.
She explains as they lose connection to their families back home, especially the second generation, they are left with false family history since they only know their parents and siblings. Chen says this creates problems because they may not know cancer is part of their family.
She hopes by helping eliminate the stigma of cancer, she will help future generations to seek medical care and learn about their own family’s health history.
About the Writer
Justin is a native of Harlingen, the capital city of the Rio Grande Valley in Deep South Texas. He graduated in 2021 from The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley with a Bachelor of Liberal Arts, majoring in Mass Communication with a concentration in Print Journalism. Justin is responsible for writing news and feature stories for the College and its various departments to be featured via the web, social media, and various other media outlets.Articles by Justin
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