Journal of Community Genetics

, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 91–96 | Cite as

Rural Mexican-Americans’ perceptions of family health history, genetics, and disease risk: implications for disparities-focused research dissemination

  • Rachel Malen
  • Sarah Knerr
  • Fernanda Delgado
  • Stephanie M. FullertonEmail author
  • Beti Thompson
Short Communication


Disseminating the results of transdisciplinary health disparities research will increasingly involve discussing family health history and/or genetic information with study participants and their communities. Often, individuals’ familiarity and comfort with these topics will be unclear. To inform the dissemination activities of a Center for Population Health and Health Disparities (CPHHD) studying multilevel determinants of breast cancer disparities in Latinas, we talked with Spanish-speaking Mexican-Americans from a rural agricultural community about family health history, genetics, and disease risk. We found that participants had limited genetic literacy but were familiar with some concepts related to family health history. Participants emphasized the role of individual behavior in shaping health and expressed a strong desire for health-related information. This included genetic information about future disease risk, which participants were previously unaware of but thought could be useful for disease prevention. These findings suggest that for research dissemination to facilitate health promotion, gaps in knowledge, particularly genetic knowledge, will need to be overcome. Outreach to underserved Latino communities should take advantage of this existing knowledge of family health history and strong desire for health information, but also take care to not overstate the significance of unreplicated or low-penetrance genetic associations.


Research dissemination Transdisciplinary Genetics Family health history Health disparities Hispanic/Latino 



This project was supported through the National Cancer Institute under grant P50CA148143. F. Delgado was also supported by the American College of Medical Genetics Foundation Summer Scholars Program under the mentorship of Fuki Hisama. We would like to thank the staff at the Center for Community Health Promotion, particularly Nathanael Marchello, for their contribution to this work as well as the study's participants.

Compliance with ethics guidelines

All human subjects research was approved by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center Research Center’s IRB and is in full compliance with the current laws that protect human subjects in the USA.

Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.


  1. Bradbury AR, Patrick-Miller L, Domchek S (2014) Multiplex genetic testing: reconsidering utility and informed consent in the era of next-generation sequencing. Gen Med 17:97–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Cashman SB, Adeky S, Allen AJ et al (2008) The power and the promise: working with communities to analyze data, interpret findings, and get to outcomes. Am J Public Health 98:1407–1417PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Centers for Disease Control (2004) Awareness of family health history as a risk factor for disease—United States. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 53:1044–1047Google Scholar
  4. Cooper LA, Boulware LE, Miller ER et al (2013) Creating a transdisciplinary research center to reduce cardiovascular health disparities in Baltimore, Maryland: lessons learned. Am J Public Health 103:e26–e38PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Corona R, Rodriguez V, Quillin J, Gyure M, Bodurtha J (2013) Talking (or not) about family health history in families of Latino young adults. Health Educ Behav 40:571–580PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Dar-Nimrod I, Heine SJ (2011) Genetic essentialism: on the deceptive determinism of DNA. Psychol Bull 137:800–18PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Eichmeyer JN, Northrup H, Assel MA, Goka TJ, Johnston DA, Williams AM (2005) An assessment of risk understanding in Hispanic genetic counseling patients. J Genet Couns 14:319–328PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Emmons KM, Viswanath K, Colditz GA (2008) The role of transdisciplinary collaboration in translating and disseminating health research: lessons learned and exemplars of success. Am J Prev Med 35:S204–S210PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Gibbon S (2011) Family medicine, ‘La Herencia’ and breast cancer; understanding the (dis)continuities of predictive genetics in Cuba. Soc Sci Med 12:1784–1792CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hovick SR, Wilkinson AV, Ashida S, de Heer HD, Koehly LM (2014) The impact of personalized risk feedback on Mexican Americans’ perceived risk for heart disease and diabetes. Health Educ Res 29:222–234PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Hovick SR, Yamasaki JS, Burton-Chase AM, Peterson SK (2015) Patterns of family health history communication among older African American adults. J Health Commun 20:80–87PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hsieh HF, Shannon SE (2005) Three approaches to qualitative content analysis. Qual Health Res 15:1277–1288PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Kaphingst KA, LaChance CR, Gepp A, D’Anna LH, Rios-Ellis B (2011) Educating underserved Latino communities about family health history using lay health advisor. Public Health Genomics 14:211–221PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Kinney AY, Gammon A, Coxworth J, Simonsen SE, Arce-Laretta M (2010) Exploring attitudes, beliefs, and communication preferences of Latino community members regarding BRCA1/2 mutation testing and preventive strategies. Gen Med 12:105–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kleinman A, Benson P (2006) Anthropology in the clinic: the problem of cultural competency and how to fix it. PLoS Med 3:e294PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Klitzman R, Thorne D, Williamson J, Chung W, Marder K (2007) Disclosures of Huntington disease risk within families: patterns of decision-making and implications. Am J Med Genet A 143A:1835–49PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Lea DH, Kaphingst KA, Bowen D, Lipkus I, Hadley DW (2011) Communicating genetic and genomic information: health literacy and numeracy considerations. Public Health Genomics 14:279–289PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Lee SS, Mountain J, Koenig B et al (2008) The ethics of characterizing difference: guiding principles on using racial categories in human genetics. Genome Biol 9:404PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Mellon S, Berry-Bobovski L, Gold R, Levin N, Tainsky MA (2006) Communication and decision-making about seeking inherited cancer risk information: findings from a female survivor-relative focus group. Psychooncology 15:193–208PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Miles MB, Huberman AM (1994) Qualitative data analysis: an expanded sourcebook, 2nd edn. Sage Publications, Thousand OaksGoogle Scholar
  21. Ortega AN, Fang H, Perez VH, Fizzo JA, Carter-Pokras O, Wallace SP, Gelberg L (2007) Health care access, use of services, and experiences among undocumented Mexicans and other Latinos. Arch Intern Med 167:2354–2360PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Ricker CN, Hiyama S, Fuentes S et al (2007) Beliefs and interest in cancer risk in an underserved Latino cohort. Prev Med 44:241–245PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Sussner KM, Jandorf L, Thompson HS, Valdimarsdottir HB (2013) Barriers and facilitators to BRCA genetic counseling among at-risk Latinas in New York City. Psychooncology 22:1594–1604PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Thompson HS, Valdimarsdottir HB, Jandorf L, Redd W (2003) Perceived disadvantages and concerns about abuses of genetic testing for cancer risk: difference across African American, Latina, and Caucasian women. Patient Educ Couns 51:217–27PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Vadaparampil ST, McIntyre J, Quinn GP (2010) Awareness, perceptions, and provider recommendation related to genetic testing for hereditary breast cancer risk among at-risk Hispanic women: similarities and variations by sub-ethnicity. J Gent Couns 19:618–629CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Valdez R, Yoon PW, Qureshi N, Green RF, Khoury MJ (2010) Family history in public health practice: a genomic tool for disease prevention and health promotion. Ann Rev Public Health 31:69–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Viswanath K, Finnegan JR (1996) The knowledge gap hypothesis: 25 years later. In: Burleson BR (ed) Communication Yearbook 19. Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA, pp 187–227Google Scholar
  28. Warnecke RB, Oh A, Breen N et al (2008) Approaching health disparities from a population perspective: the National Institutes of Health Centers for Population Health and Health Disparities. Am J Public Health 9:1608–1615CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. White M, Adams J, Heywood P (2009) How and why do interventions that increase health overall widen inequalities within populations? In: Babones J (ed) Social Inequality and Public Health. The Policy Press, Bristol, pp pp 65–81Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rachel Malen
    • 1
  • Sarah Knerr
    • 1
    • 2
  • Fernanda Delgado
    • 3
  • Stephanie M. Fullerton
    • 4
    Email author
  • Beti Thompson
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Cancer Prevention ProgramFred Hutchinson Cancer ResearchSeattleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Health ServicesUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  3. 3.School of MedicineUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  4. 4.Department of Bioethics and HumanitiesUniversity of Washington School of MedicineSeattleUSA

Personalised recommendations