Breast cancer screening underutilized by ethnic women

08/16/04

New immigrants less likely to get exams

Lack of information, modesty and a false sense of security may prevent women from immigrant backgrounds from having regular clinical breast examinations, says a study by the University of Toronto and the University Health Network (UHN).

A Toronto study of South Asian immigrant women, published in the July issue of the Journal of Immigrant Health, showed that although 83 per cent of the women surveyed had heard of clinical breast examination (CBE), only 38.5 per cent had ever had the exam - a concern since breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women in North America.

"Early detection of breast cancer increases the chance of survival, so having regular clinical breast examinations is important," says Farah Ahmad, a PhD candidate in medicine at U of T. Ahmad co-authored the study with Dr. Donna Stewart, a University Professor in psychiatry and obstetrics/gynecology at U of T and chair of the Women's Health Program at UHN. "Because South Asian women are at low risk from breast cancer in their native countries, they don't realize that the risk changes once they are living in North America.

The U of T study, funded by the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, focused on Urdu- and Hindi-speaking women residing in urban areas. Researchers also found that the women who had been in Canada longest were more likely to have had a CBE. Overall, there were big gaps in knowledge about breast cancer risk and screening methods; only 7.4 per cent knew that mammograms were recommended every two years for women aged 50 and over. Less than half the women in the study knew that mammograms are universally covered by Canadian health insurance.

"Our study, although small, points to the value of having educational initiatives tailored to emphasize issues specific to the targeted community," said Ahmad.

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