Awareness of cancer risk low among many ethnic minorities

In collaboration with the Press Association

A survey has revealed that many ethnic minority groups have a low awareness of the signs and symptoms of various forms of cancer, even though some groups have a higher risk of certain types of cancer than others.

Published to launch Ethnic Minority Cancer Awareness Week (July 6th to 12th), the figures show that at least 46 per cent of ethnic minorities are unsure of the signs and symptoms of the various forms of cancer, or of how to reduce their cancer risk.

This finding comes in spite of the fact that 61 per cent of respondents have had a family member with cancer.

It has long been known that some ethnic minority groups face a heightened risk of certain forms of cancer.

For instance, African Caribbean men are three times more likely to develop prostate cancer than white men, while south Asian and Chinese people face a higher-than-average risk of mouth cancer.

Jennifer Layburn, who chairs an alliance of cancer charities, said: "Cancer awareness is important for everyone.

"However as these figures show, there is a need to reach ethnic minority communities with targeted awareness messages to increase the levels of awareness and early diagnosis to help reduce the inequalities that exist in survival and mortality figures."

When asked about NHS screening programmes, 78 per cent of ethnic minority women were aware of breast screening.

However, figures show that 45 per cent of black women have never attended a breast screen, 76 per cent of whom claimed they had never been invited.

Only 22 per cent of the 2,000 respondents had heard of the NHS bowel cancer screening programme, despite bowel cancer being the UK's second most common cause of cancer death.

Part of the problem may be due to a lack of written information, language barriers, and a shortage of information that is appropriate to people's cultures.

Ms Layburn noted that the National Cancer Intelligence Network recently published data which have shed light on the incidence of cancer among ethnic minorities.

"However, there is still clearly a lot more that can be done around the recording of cancer incidence, mortality and survival in British ethnic minority groups as this will lead to a better understanding of their needs and the development of appropriate services to meet these needs," she observed.

Henry Scowcroft, science information manager, said: "For many cancers an earlier diagnosis can mean treatment is more likely to succeed. Some experts believe that people who are more aware of cancer symptoms are more likely to seek medical advice earlier when they notice problems, so raising awareness could save lives.

"While we must improve awareness in all sectors of society, it's especially important to target populations where it's known to be low, such as certain ethnic minority communities."