Mayor Beverly O'Neill

Mayor Brings Community Together in the Fight Against Breast Cancer 

Throughout the nation, breast cancer deaths have been falling due to early detection from routine screening. However, from 1992 to 1994, the number of breast cancer deaths in the City of Long Beach rose by about 2 percent. In fact, Long Beach was eighth in the number of women dying of breast cancer in 1994, the year with the latest comparative data. This fact was revealed by the Big Cities Health Inventory, 1997: The Health of Urban USA, which ranked the health indicators of 46 United States cities with populations exceeding 350,000.

This means that Long Beach had a higher breast cancer rate than 38 other cities of this national survey, and in California, only Sacramento ranked higher. In Long Beach, breast cancer comprised 18 percent of all female cancer deaths in 1996. In 1997, the year with the last available data, the Long Beach female breast cancer mortality rate .per 100,000 women was 19.1.

Recognizing that breast cancer was approaching epidemic levels in Long Beach, Mayor O’Neill has brought the community together to fight against this disease. The mayor began by proclaiming October 1998 and 1999 Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the City of Long Beach. In support of Mayor O’Neill’s participation in the national Mayors’ Campaign Against Breast Cancer, the health department has maintained a breast cancer awareness campaign. This initiative is being conducted in collaboration with several community organizations and stakeholders in order to reach underserved communities in the City of Long Beach.

Collaboration with the .Cambodian Community

Long Beach is home to the largest Cambodian community in the United States and is the largest community outside of Cambodia. The health department collaborated with Mount Carmel Cambodian Center and the Long Beach Unit of the American Cancer Society (ACS) in the .development of the Cambodian (Khmer) language "Tell a Friend" package. The .pamphlets and posters of this package .have been distributed during Cambodian New Year celebrations, Mount Carmel Cambodian Center activities, United Methodist Cambodian Church services, .and in the health department’s clinics.

Additionally, the packages were distributed through other Cambodian community organizations such as the United Cambodian Community, Inc. and the Cambodian Association of America. All materials were made appropriate for literacy levels of the .targeted readers. Also in collaboration with the United Cambodian Community, the health department arranged for the translation of flyers into Khmer so as to publicize the availability of free mobile mammography during October 1999.

Collaboration with the African American Community

African Americans comprised 13 percent .of Long Beach residents in 1999. Although the incidence rate of African American women contracting breast cancer is lower than that of Whites, their mortality rate .is higher. Thus, among all races, African American women have the highest possibility of dying of breast cancer. This is attributable to late diagnoses and underutilization of mammography. The health department worked with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to organize a breast cancer presentation at the NAACP 3rd Annual African American Community Health Forum on July 31, 1999. In addition, the health department continues to work with the Long Beach Ministerial Alliance to increase breast cancer awareness in the African American community. African American women were also targeted for outreach during Public Health Week in April 1999.

Collaboration with the Latino community

The City of Long Beach has seen a rapid rise in the Latino population, from 23.6 percent in 1990 to a current estimate of 33.5 percent (136,246 in 1997). Women make up 48 percent of the city’s Latino population, and 10.2 percent are women age 50 and over. Between 1990 and 1996, Hispanic mortality rates from breast cancer increased by 26.4 percent. Although Medicare covers many Latino women .over age 65, there also are many immigrant women who do not have any kind of health insurance.

The health department works with the Latino Senior Club to promote monthly breast self-examinations and yearly mammograms. In October 1999 the health department distributed Spanish language flyers announcing the availability of free mammograms in mobile vans.

Collaboration with Medical Providers

All medical providers in the Long Beach area received a letter from the city health officer informing them of the availability .of the state’s Breast Cancer Early Detection Program to support breast cancer screening and treatment for uninsured and underinsured patients. In addition, the health department works with the Long Beach Medical Society to inform its members of free mammography by mobile van. Grand Rounds (medical conferences on issues of general interest to the medical community) on breast cancer were presented at the health department for medical providers. The health department has also worked with Saint Mary’s Medical Center on .breast cancer awareness activities.

Collaboration with the Media

Local newspapers – The Press-Telegram, "Grunion Gazette," and "Downtown Gazette" – printed items about breast .cancer and provided information about ongoing educational and screening activities. During the month of October 1999, the health department collaborated with cable programmers to produce a live .interview on the "In-Side Long Beach" cable program about Mayor O’Neill’s Breast Cancer Awareness and Prevention Campaign. Participants included an ACS representative, a breast cancer physician, and a breast cancer survivor. Also, the national Mayors’ Campaign Against Breast Cancer public service announcement video – produced by the United States Conference of Mayors – is being shown on local cable channels.

Collaboration with ACS

During October 1999, the health department and the Long Beach Unit of ACS .collaborated on bringing free mobile mammography into the community and giving breast cancer awareness presentations to city employees. The city also .supported ACS fundraising. Mayor O’Neill sent a letter to city department heads recommending that they organize teams for "Making Strides Against Breast .Cancer Walk," an ACS fundraiser for more research, education, patient services, .and advocacy. Thirty-six city employees responded, participating in the Making Strides walk on October 24, 1999.

Follow-up and Treatment

When a mammogram reveals a suspicious condition, the woman in question is referred to her own health care provider for follow-up. If she is without a provider and medically indigent, her follow-up will be covered by the state Breast Cancer Early Detection Program, which has a cadre of selected providers. She will be referred to a local physician who is one of the selected providers; and should she be diagnosed with breast cancer, her treatment may be covered by Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program for indigent patients. Such patients may be employed, but they are deemed eligible for Medi-Cal if they are without health insurance or are underinsured.  

For more information, please contact:

Félix Aguilar, M.D., M.P.H.
Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services
telephone: 562/570-4299