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Ethnic variations in cancer beliefs

Wednesday March 2nd, 2016

Many women from ethnic minorities take a fatalistic view of cancer - affecting their willingness to seek treatment, researchers report today.

A Cancer Research UK study, published in The British Journal of Cancer surveyed 720 White British, Caribbean, African, Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi women.

The researchers, led by Charlotte Vrinten of University College London, UK, found that at least half of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi women and almost a quarter of Caribbean women believed that getting cancer was due to "fate".

Just 6% of white British women held this belief. Between 26% and 38% of the women from ethnic minorities believed that cancer was incurable, in contrast with no white British women.

UK-born women of all ethnic origins were significantly more comfortable thinking about cancer than women who had migrated to the UK. The ability to speak English well and understand health information also helped women feel comfortable thinking about cancer.

Ms Vrinten said: "It's alarming to see such high percentages of women feeling afraid of cancer. We know that fearing cancer means some people avoid taking part in cancer screening or seeing their doctor with symptoms, and there's evidence that this is true for white women and those from ethnic minority backgrounds too. This may be especially true when women also believe that nothing can be done about cancer.

"Undue fear of cancer may cost some people their lives if it means they avoid cancer screening or seeing their doctor with symptoms, so it's important that we get the message out there that cancer outcomes are improving and that cancer doesn't have to be dreaded like it used to be."

Vrinten, C. et al. Cancer fear and fatalism among ethnic minority women in the UK. British Journal of Cancer 2 March 2016 doi: 10.1038/bjc.2016.15

Tags: Cancer | UK News | Women's Health & Gynaecology

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