Asian community less likely to attend cancer screening

In collaboration with the Press Association

A new study has found that members of the South Asian community are 15 per cent less likely to attend breast cancer screening and only half as likely to accept an invitation to be screened for bowel cancer as members of the non-Asian community.

Researchers at the University of Warwick examined uptake in the NHS breast and bowel cancer screening programmes among more than 400,000 people in Coventry and Warwickshire.

They found that while two thirds of non-Asian people accept invitations for bowel screening, only one in three South Asians and one in four Muslims participate.

Similarly, three quarters of non-Asian people attend breast screening, but the figures fall to under two thirds of South Asians and just over half of the Muslim population.

Members of the South Asian community were also slower to come forward for further investigation if an initial bowel screen revealed abnormalities.

However, all women attended a breast assessment following an abnormal mammogram, regardless of ethnicity.

Age appears to be a major factor in determining whether or not a person will attend screening, regardless of ethnicity.

Women are less likely to attend breast screening appointments as they get older, despite the fact that the risk of breast cancer increases with age.

The opposite is true when it comes to bowel screening, with the number of men and women participating in the programme increasing with age.

Study author Professor Ala Szczepura said: "This type of information is essential to tailor appropriate and effective interventions and education programmes for the South Asian community.

"From our findings we can only conclude that cultural differences lie at the heart of the reason why fewer South Asians are coming forward for cancer screening. Improved ethnicity recording by primary care trusts would help us understand why uptake of cancer screening varies so dramatically among black and ethnic minorities."

Julietta Patnick, director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes, said that the findings are "invaluable" and that research is ongoing to shed light on cervical screening uptake.

"We know that encouraging uptake among BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) communities is one of our biggest challenges. The Government's recently published Cancer Reform Strategy highlighted the need to tackle inequalities and this is something we are committed to addressing," she said.

"We need to support PCTs to redouble their efforts to understand the needs of their local communities to remove barriers and improve accessibility to cancer screening."

Catherine Meaden, head of external relations and campaigning at Cancer Research UK, said: "We know that screening saves lives and this research highlights the importance of encouraging everyone who is eligible - but particularly those from communities where uptake is low - to take part in screening when invited.

"Our Screening Matters campaign calls on the Government to do more to encourage people from Black and Minority Ethnic groups to go for screening by providing tailored information and advice about the potentially life-saving benefits it can bring.

"Local screening services need to take targeted action among groups where participation is low and examples of innovative ways to improve uptake need to be implemented widely."

The NHS breast and cervical screening programmes have screened over 70 million women and detected over 100,000 cancers since their launch in 1988.

The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme was launched in 2006 and is currently being rolled out across the country, with nationwide coverage expected to be in place by the end of 2009.