Beauty salon pushes prevention

Pilot program reaches out to low-income women

Black women in low-income neighborhoods in California are learning about breast cancer from their beauticians as part of a three-year study to find alternative ways to help patients underserved by traditional health care providers.

If the project succeeds, researchers plan to expand it to cover other health issues such as the importance of immunizing children.

Lead researcher Georgia Robbins Sadler, the associate director for community outreach at the University of California, San Diego Cancer Center, has already completed a pilot program in which eight beauticians were trained to talk to their customers about breast cancer. Over the next three years, Sadler plans to expand the program to 20 San Diego-area salons.

Sadler says she chose salons because women feel comfortable talking to their beauticians about personal issues.

In the salon project, a storyteller helps beauticians develop techniques to encourage discussion about the value of self-exams and mammograms, and the benefits of healthy lifestyle choices such as losing weight and not smoking.

"Instead of saying, ‘You should do this, you should do that,’ the beautician would say, ‘I want to tell you a story I heard recently that was really moving. I hope you’ll pass it along to other women you love,’" Sadler explains.

Researchers say that although the 207 women who participated in the pilot project had disposable income to spend in salons and did not represent those at greatest disadvantage in their communities, the program showed promise. The follow-up survey revealed these women tended to repeat what they’d heard to family and friends.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 101 of every 100,000 black women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992. Although the rate is the same for white women, black women are 50% more likely to die because they are less likely to receive health education and screenings that result in early detection and treatment.