In their study “Social Networks and Cancer Screening in Four US Hispanic Groups,” published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Suarez and Ramirez explore the impact of social networks and social relationships on cancer screening service use for breast cancer (mammography) and cervical cancer (Pap test) by Latina women in the United States. This article uses social network theory to explain the utilization or lack of utilization of cancer screening services among Latina women. According to the theoretical constructs of social network theory, one would assume that women with larger social networks and more social support would be more likely to access preventive health services, including Pap tests. The researchers collected information through telephone interviews of eligible women aged 40 and over residing in census tract areas with high Hispanic population densities. The interviews collected information regarding sociodemographic factors, knowledge of Pap smear and mammography guidelines, Pap smear and mammography use, language, and social relationships. To measure the social network integration of the women, the researchers developed a “social network index” by gathering information about the number of close relatives and friends and how often the subjects reported to have contact with their friends and relatives. The researchers then examined the relationship between social networks and cancer screening activities, breaking down their results for the four broad Latino groups included in their research: Mexican American, Central American, Puerto Rican, and Cuban American.
Their article found that social network participation and support appears to have some slight influence in cancer screening participation among Latinas. In three of the four groups (Mexican American, Central American, and Cuban American), women with high levels of social integration were more likely to know the guidelines for Pap tests and to have has a recent Pap test than women with low levels of social integration. The influence was most clearly seen in Mexican American women, who had the highest levels of social integration, but was not evident in Puerto Rican women, who had the lowest levels of social integration of the four groups. The study also found that the influence of social support was somewhat greater for Pap smear knowledge and use than mammography.
While this study and the use of social network concepts are useful in understanding Latina use of cancer screening services and should be considered in planning interventions to increase the usage of such services, the data from this study showed only a modest impact of social networks on cancer screening service usage.
Resource: Suarez, L., Villareal, R., Marti, J., McAlister, A., Talavera, G., Trapido, E., Perez-Stable, E.J. Social Networks and Cancer Screening in Four U.S. Hispanic Groups. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2000; 19: 47-52.