Turns out cancer is not contagious, breast-feeding does not cause breast cancer, surgery treatment for breast cancer won’t cause disease spread, and men can, in fact, get breast cancer. Grandma might have passed down some incorrect information over the years.
Today’s discussion will focus mainly on breast cancer. Studies have shown that racial and ethnic minority groups are influenced by specific factors when making healthcare decisions. Cultural stigmas and beliefs that surround cancer often leave women in these groups at a disadvantage in the battle against the disease. These disadvantages come in many forms:
- lack of trust in healthcare providers
- seeking information only from friends and family
- fear of communicating the diagnosis to family/friends
- language barriers
- cultural beliefs and attitudes towards screening
- under-representation in clinical trials
- lack of cancer family history documentation
- fear of economic burden of a cancer diagnosis and treatment
A recent study in The Journal of Cancer Epidemiology, performed in conjunction with the Avon Foundation found that Non-Hispanic Caucasian women are diagnosed more frequently with breast cancer than African-American women, but that African-Americans have a significantly higher mortality rate.
When cancer is diagnosed early, prognosis is better. Specifically, for breast cancer patients, when disease is found early, five-year survival rates are roughly 98%. Underserved ethnic and racial minority groups generally present with later stage disease at diagnosis due to delayed screening. These facts are often partially the result of economic and knowledge disparities. A larger proportion of this population is uninsured, or underinsured, and thus goes to the doctor for fewer preventative care visits. Early diagnosis saves lives, but without preventative care visits, early diagnosis is difficult to come by.
We must be able to serve minority and underserved patients in a culturally sensitive, accessible way. This means providing outreach and patient care that works to reverse the challenges that some cultural beliefs and stigmas create. This also means providing outreach and patient care that understands what these beliefs and stigmas are, and respects those that do not impact care in a negative way. This area of study, cultural beliefs and attitudes in relationship to outcome disparities, is a growing field, and rightly so. It must be a priority in the future and it is a great opportunity for teamwork in healthcare.