Ask her about the ribbon on her mailbox. Walk away with a message of prevention

Researchers found that these groups are dying at higher rates of cancer in Hawaii than any other group.
Published: Jun. 17, 2022 at 5:38 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 17, 2022 at 5:52 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Kehau Matsumoto proudly displays her pink breast cancer ribbon in front of her Niu Valley home.

She keeps it hanging from her mailbox in hopes people passing by will ask her about it.

“And I like that,” Matsumoto said. “Because that’s my way of educating people on cancer. Mainly because I’m a five-time cancer survivor.”

Matsumoto, 78, said she was lucky to detect her breast cancer so early. And she wants others to learn from her story.

Especially Native Hawaiians, who have higher rates of cancer and cancer deaths than other ethnic groups.

A new report highlights the scope of the problem.

The 2022 Cancer Disparities Progress Report found that Native Hawaiian men are least likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer but most likely to die from it.

Native Hawaiian women, meanwhile, have the highest incidence and death rates for breast and lung cancer.

“Hawaiian women were more likely to say, ‘I don’t need it (a screening). You know, I’m fine,’ said Matsumoto.

“I have to take care of the aina and I have to take care of my moopuna. But if you die, the land will still be here. And your moopuna will be without you. How does it make you feel?”

Work from the University of Hawaii Cancer Center’s Hawaii Tumor Registry contributed to the report.

“Over the past few years, we’ve actually doubled the number of survivors from about seven million survivors to barn near 14 million now,” said UH Cancer Center researcher and associate Professor Kevin Cassel.

Cassel credited the increase survivor rates to improvements in treatments, early detection, and healthy lifestyle promotions.

But clear disparities continue for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.

Cassel said there’s a lot of disinformation.

“Really, the purpose of pointing out the disparities is looking at solutions. Things that we can do by building access to care, training physicians about some of these differences in cancer-related outcomes, and educating the public.”

In 1993, she went to her doctor for a routine mammogram and found she had breast cancer.

Matsumoto was worried she wouldn’t see her kids grow up, but she said early detection and faith helped her defeat cancer.

Now, she’s an advocate for people with cancer.

She is a 30-year volunteer for the American Cancer Society and she is also on the UH Cancer Center’s committee for quality of life.

“Doing something helps not only you but your family,” said Matsumoto. “And so when I hear this, it’s like, the tools are there, all you need to do is reach.”

That’s why she tries to reach as many people as she can, and as early as she can.

“Get a check-up. Be preventative,” she said.

To learn more about the UH Cancer Center click here. To find a screening program near you, visit the CDC website.

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