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Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum: Health Care

Health Care for Me

Home Susan Matsuko Shinagawa

Susan Matsuko Shinagawa

Cancer Survivor and Advocate

Before health care reform, I was denied a biopsy for a prominent and painful breast lump by a surgical oncologist who admonished me that, “Asian women don’t get breast cancer”. After seeking a second opinion and undergoing a surgical biopsy, I was eventually diagnosed with infiltrating breast cancer at the age of 34, and underwent a modified radical mastectomy, followed by combination chemotherapy. Ten years later, routine mammography revealed an unrelated breast cancer in my left breast, for which I underwent a second mastectomy. I have been advocating for better minority health data for the 20 years since my first breast cancer diagnosis. Yet, I continue to meet (primarily young) AA and NHPI women diagnosed with breast cancer who were initially told by their health care providers that “Asian women don’t get breast cancer.”

Health care reform is important to me because national health surveys will now include collection and reporting of race, ethnicity, primary language, and disability status. These data are critical to improving our understanding of health disparities affecting Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities, and may be key to preventing other health care professionals from repeating the fallacy that “Asian women don’t get breast cancer” to their AA and NHPI patients who present to them with suspicious breast findings.

In the U.S., cardiac disease continues to be the overall leading cause of death among all U.S. population groups with the exception of AA and NHPI women, for whom cancer has been the number one killer since 1986 – more than 25 years! In California (where I was born and raised), research has shown that Japanese American women have the fastest rising breast cancer incidence rates and Filipinas have the overall poorest breast cancer survival rates among all California women. Yet, we don’t know the reasons behind these disparities. ACA-mandated data collection and reporting will provide researchers with the detailed information and tools needed to answer these perplexing and troublesome questions.