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Ethnic minority women more likely to believe cancer is fate, say researchers

2 March 2016

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Women from ethnic minorities in the UK are more likely to believe that cancer is deadly and down to fate than their white counterparts, according to a Cancer Research UK study.

The researchers believe that this is why women from ethnic minority backgrounds are less likely to see their doctor about cancer symptoms.

More than 720 women were surveyed who were white British, Caribbean, African, Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi.

Nearly two thirds of Bangladeshi women surveyed believed that getting cancer was ‘fate’ (63%), along with 52% of Pakistani women, half of Indian women, and nearly a quarter of Caribbean women (23%), compared to 6% of white British women.

Regardless of ethnic origin, women who had migrated to the UK as children felt more uncomfortable thinking about cancer than UK-born women (30% compared with 15%). The same was true for those who did not speak English very well (31% compared with 19%) and those who found it difficult to understand health information (35% compared with 18%). 

The study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, also showed ethnic minority women were generally more fearful of cancer, which lead author Charlotte Vrinten said “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,” she added.

Between a quarter and a third (26 and 38 per cent) of the women from ethnic minorities believed that cancer was incurable, but no white British women thought this.

Vrinten urged: “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.”