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August 30, 2005
CONTACT: Carol Anderson

EMU professor promotes breast cancer screening among Asian American women in southeastern Michigan

Editorís Note: October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Tsu-Yin Wu is available for interviews by calling 734.487. 4400.

YPSILANTI - A woman in tears tells researcher Tsu-Yin Wu that she is so thankful to have learned how to do a breast self-exam. She found a lump in her breast that was in the early stages of cancer. She received treatment and is now a survivor. That was only two months after she learned the self-exam technique.

This type of story tells Wu, an Eastern Michigan University associate professor of nursing, that her message of preventative health care associated with breast exams is “getting through.”

“My true reward is to have women learn to be self-motivated (about breast cancer detection). Breast cancer affects all women and early detection is the key to survival,” said Wu.

Wu recently received a $249,096grant from the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation to promote breast cancer screening among immigrant Asian American women. Wu previously conducted a similar study for Chinese American women.

Her goal is to reduce breast cancer by educating immigrant women, 40 years or older from southeastern and southern Asia, about health education and breast cancer screening practices.

Immigrant women from the Philippines and Vietnam (southeast Asia) and India, Bangladesh and Pakistan (southern Asia) have unique needs in breast cancer screening, said Wu.

Breast cancer is the number one diagnosed cancer in Caucasian, African American and Asian American women, but unique among Asian Americans is the detection timetable. The disease is discovered in these women at a much later stage, which can be life threatening, said Wu. In addition, their incidence rate for developing breast cancer is six times greater than that of women who remain in their native countries. 

Understanding cultural barriers and the breast cancer screening practices of Asian American women and developing appropriate programs for them is particularly important since that population has been growing in southeastern Michigan, said Wu.

Asian American women need help in overcoming language and cultural barriers.

Without a good command of the English language, women aren’t aware of the recommended cancer detection procedures so mammograms are not done, said Wu.

“Breast cancer screening is an effective early detection measure, but Asian American women are hesitant to see a doctor for preventative care,” she said.

Thanks to the Komen grant, Wu is setting up an interdisciplinary team of nurses, doctors and social workers who will work together to introduce a culturally-sensitive screening program to Asian American women.

Team members will ask women about their experiences with breast cancer screening and services provided by the health system in their country of origin. They also will listen for cultural taboos such as fear of touching oneself during a breast exam or reluctance to see a male doctor.

“I really listen and try to bridge the gap. I ask them about their top priority in life (which is usually family) and tell them to look at the bigger picture,” said Wu. “Their families and children are depending on them.”

Wu also is setting up a research team to work in Washtenaw and Oakland counties, and hopes to recruit about 160 participants from area churches, temples, restaurants and grocery stores. In the second year, the team will engage in counseling and education of breast cancer screening and, in the final year, there will be follow-up with each participant.

By the end of the three-year study, Wu hopes to decrease health disparities in cancer screening for Asian American women by increasing the number of women who do monthly self-examinations, get an annual checkup by a doctor and have an annual mammogram.

Wu, a resident of Ann Arbor, has a doctorate in health promotion and risk reduction and a master’s degree in community health in nursing from the University of Michigan and a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the National Yang Ming University in Taiwan.

As a behavioral scientist, Wu became interested in why people exhibit positive behavior. She started her research in breast cancer with a study of Chinese American women and cancer screening through the National Cancer Institute in 2000.  This study eventually led to her current interest in Asian American women.

“Every group has its own unique needs and any advances in breast cancer screening technology are useless if women don’t overcome the cultural and language barriers to early health screening,” said Wu. “I’m trying my best to help them succeed.”

Eastern Michigan University is a public, comprehensive university that offers programs in the arts, sciences and professions. EMU prepares students with the intellectual skills and practical experiences to succeed in their careers and lives, and to be better citizens.


Eastern Michigan University is a public, comprehensive university that offers programs in the arts, sciences and professions. EMU prepares students with the intellectual skills and practical experiences to succeed in their career and lives, and to be better citizens.

Editor's Note: Looking for an expert source for a story? Check out EMU's Eastern Experts online at www.emich.edu/univcomm/easternexperts.

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