Women from ethnic minority backgrounds are less likely than white women to see a GP if they have potential cancer symptoms, a new study has revealed.
The report, funded by Cancer Research UK, found that between 75% and 91% of women from ethnic minority backgrounds in England felt too embarrassed to talk to a GP compared to 8% of white women.
Women from ethnic minority backgrounds were also more likely to be afraid that a symptom was a sign of something serious, while three times as many ethnic minority respondents said they felt less confident about understanding what the GP says.
The findings are published in Psycho-Oncology.
The researchers, based at the University of Surrey and Kings College London, surveyed 720 women from six different ethnic groups in England – white, Caribbean, African, Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi – to try and understand why women might delay seeking medical help.
Participants were asked to answer how strongly they agreed with 11 statements that were designed to assess potential barriers to going to a GP.
Fatalism was higher among ethnic minority women compared with white women and having a strong fatalistic belief was associated with reduced body awareness. This could mean that some women may be less likely to get to know their bodies.
The researchers also found that ethnic minority women who had moved to the UK as adults were about 40% less likely to report worrying about wasting a GP’s time as a potential barrier, than women from the same ethnic background born in the UK.
This, they say, could suggest that a ‘stiff upper lip’ is engrained in British society and exists for women born in the UK.
Among ethnic minority women, about 30% – except Bangladeshi – said they would pray about a symptom compared with 10% of white women.
African, Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi women were also more likely to say they might use traditional remedies, but it is not known if they would do that instead of, or as well as, going to the doctor.
Dr Katriina Whitaker, of the University of Surrey, said: “We found that women from different ethnic backgrounds experienced different barriers to seeking help. Often studies aren’t fully representative of the population, so including people from different ethnic backgrounds in research is an important step in identifying how to reduce inequalities.
“By addressing the barriers present in different communities, we have an opportunity to implement changes that can make everyone feel able to access healthcare. Only then will everyone have the best chance of surviving their cancer.”
Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK’s head of health and patient information, said more should be done to ensure that women from ethnic minority backgrounds are aware of things that can be done to make a doctor’s appointment easier, such as the use of translation services.
“It’s understandable that symptoms can be scary, embarrassing or something that’s hard to talk about,” she said.
“But doctors are there to help and are used to dealing with things patients may find difficult to discuss. In most cases it won’t be cancer, but it’s best to get it checked out.”