Hmong Health Study Defies Expectations

Terrabytes-Hmong HealthBy Lee Anna Sherman

Hmong women in Oregon are not as wary of Western medicine as some national studies of Hmong communities have suggested. A study of Hmong adults living in Portland and Salem found much higher rates of breast and cervical cancer screenings than the researchers expected, says Oregon State public health professor Sheryl Thorburn, lead author.

Screenings may have been underreported in part because Hmong women typically keep health decisions private. And while many Hmong have indeed been screened, those screenings tend to be one-time or occasional events rather than regular routines. “It is not enough to have been screened once,” says Jennifer Kue, who grew up in Portland’s Hmong community and conducted the study with Thorburn as a Ph.D. candidate. The risks are especially high among the Hmong, whose cervical cancer rates are some of the nation’s highest.

Another surprising finding: Hmong women make many health decisions independently of their husbands. “In our culture, we place a heavy emphasis on communal decision-making and it’s male-dominant,” Kue, now an assistant professor at Ohio State. “I would have expected men to have more influence.”