Five Questions With: Dr. Pedro Barros

DR. PEDRO BARROS has joined prominent Spanish-speaking Rhode Islanders to urge Spanish-speaking residents to get screened for colorectal cancer. / COURTESY LATINO CANCER CONTROL TASK FORCE
DR. PEDRO BARROS has joined prominent Spanish-speaking Rhode Islanders to urge Spanish-speaking residents to get screened for colorectal cancer. / COURTESY LATINO CANCER CONTROL TASK FORCE

University Gastroenterology’s Dr. Pedro Barros, the only Spanish-speaking gastroenterologist in the state, recently joined several other prominent Spanish-speaking Rhode Islanders, including Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza, Central Falls Mayor James A. Diossa and Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea, in a video to raise awareness about the importance of getting screened for colorectal cancer. The video, distributed during colorectal cancer awareness month in March, is intended to break down barriers in reaching out to the Spanish-speaking community about the importance of colon cancer awareness.

Barros is certified in gastroenterology by the American Board of Internal Medicine, with extensive experience in treating various digestive disorders such as ulcers or Crohn’s disease. He is also trained in identifying abnormalities before they can become life-threatening. He can perform various medical procedures that include colonoscopies, liver biopsies and endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatographies, which combine upper gastrointestinal endoscopy and X-rays to treat problems of the bile and pancreatic ducts.

Barros completed his residency at Southern Illinois University and his fellowship at the University of Arizona College of Medicine Phoenix. He earned his medical degree at the Cayetano Heredia Peruvian University in Lima, Peru.

Providence Business News asked Barros about the importance of reaching the Spanish-speaking community about getting screened for colorectal cancer.

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PBN: Why is it important for Spanish-speaking people to be screened for colorectal cancer?

BARROS: Colorectal cancer is a common and lethal disease. It is [the] third-most common cause of cancer death in women and the second-leading cause of death in men. Nationwide, one in three adults between 50 and 75 years old are not getting screening tests as recommended, but among Hispanics this number is closer to one in two.

PBN: What are the cultural barriers for Spanish-speaking people preventing them from getting screened?

BARROS: There are many different reasons why the Hispanic population is not getting screened. First and foremost, there is a low awareness about colorectal cancer and the potential for screening to prevent or detect cancer. Other factors include fear of the unknown and fear of the procedure, prioritizing caring for their families but not always for their own preventive health and tending not to go to the doctor unless something is wrong.

This can lead to discovering colon cancer at a more advanced stage. There is also a sense of pride or “machismo” in the culture, which may keep men from having a colonoscopy.

PBN: What efforts are being used to reach this population and convince people to get screened?

BARROS: The American Cancer Society and the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable has realized there is a need to address this problem and educate the Hispanic population. Together, they conducted in-person focus groups on three cities across the United States: New York City, Los Angeles and Atlanta. They found that creating messages and educational content in Spanish was necessary.

Here in Rhode Island, we have put together a public service announcement through the Latino Cancer Control Task Force to address this. The video, which I took part in, was recorded in Spanish, featuring local medical professionals as well as Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, Central Falls Mayor James Diossa and Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea.

PBN: What are the statistics concerning Spanish-speaking people/Hispanics and colorectal cancer?

BARROS: The incidence of CRC in Hispanics is similar to non-Hispanic whites, however, at the time of the diagnosis, Hispanics are more likely to have a more advanced disease (staging) compared to non-Hispanic whites.

CRC screening rates in Hispanics are lower than in Caucasians and African-Americans. Another interesting fact is that the rate of CRC among Hispanics in the U.S. [is] higher than those among the residents of Puerto Rico and the Spanish-speaking countries in Central and South America. This is likely due to poor dietary habits and a sedentary lifestyle.

PBN: What messages work best to increase screening participation?

BARROS: The message, which would work best, is to inform and educate the Hispanic community that colon cancer is the second-leading cancer killer among Hispanics and Latinos in the U.S. when men and women are combined.

It is a common and lethal disease, but it can be prevented with screening testing, for which colonoscopy is the gold standard. Using a firm, clear message that is serious but hopeful is the key. The family is the center of Latino life. If we are successful in getting this message to family members, it will spread throughout the communities and help us get to our goal of 80 percent of adults regularly screened.

Rob Borkowski is a PBN staff writer. Email him at