Promoting breast health in ethno-cultural communities

Breast cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in women globally, the most commonly diagnosed in North American women and the second highest cause of cancer death for women in Canada. In spite of the effectiveness of early detection through screening, breast cancer screening programs are significantly underused by women from ethnic communities. York social work Professor Uzo Anucha’s research investigates – within the context of language and cultural differences – why minority women are concerned with health issues but do not access preventative health measures.

Left: Uzo Anucha

Anucha’s project was a runner-up for the Community-Based Award of Merit from The Wellesley Institute in Toronto and the Centre for Urban Health Initiatives, University of Toronto. It was funded by the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation and co-led by Professors Lucia Yiu and Nombuso Dlamini from the University of Windsor. The researchers teamed up with various ethno-cultural community partners and sought to better understand the barriers and facilitators to assessing breast health in Windsor-Essex County for women from continental Africa, South Asia, East Asia and West Asia and Arab communities.

Using a community dialogue approach, Anucha and her team completed three main activities as part of their research: a comprehensive literature review summarizing research about breast screening practices among ethno-cultural women in North America; a survey that addressed the capacity of the Windsor-Essex community to provide culturally competent breast health care; and in-depth interviews with 80 ethno-cultural women that explored their knowledge of breast cancer, beliefs regarding the disease, and perceptions of health and breast screening practices.

The findings from these three research activities were then used to develop a Health Promotion Workshop aimed at increasing the knowledge women from ethno-cultural communities have on breast cancer and the importance of breast screening. Organizations such as Community Partners for Multicultural Health, Women’s Enterprises Skills Training, Afghan Association and Sudanese Community Organization, helped to host and deliver 18 workshops with 256 women. The workshops drew on the expertise of the members of the organizations delivering them and were offered in the language that women preferred. Culturally appropriate materials were also used to enhance workshop delivery.

“We wanted to create a safe and culturally relevant environment for women to discuss their breast health,” said Anucha who teaches in York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies.

Feedback from the workshops revealed that women were provided with new, relevant and helpful information about breast health, cancer and available community health resources. Pre- and post-evaluations also indicated that the workshops acted as a positive intervention tool for women in all areas of breast health and screening knowledge as well as for understanding perceived benefits and barriers to clinical breast exams and mammograms.

Anucha’s research project has inspired discussions on developing a comprehensive cancer screening promotion program for Windsor-Essex County and an expansion of health promotion to include all cancer screening programs. Many community partners are also engaged in new initiatives to encourage cancer screening and breast health promotion.

“One of the key factors that contributed to the successful completion of the project was collaborating with community partners from various ethno-cultural communities,” said Anucha. “As a result, we have established relationships that will benefit other health initiatives and our community partners will continue to act as breast health experts. The project very much heightened our awareness of the importance of employing culturally competent methods in the delivery of health care among service providers.”

For more information on Anucha’s research, visit the Applied Social Welfare Research and Evaluation Group Web site.