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Race influences how we cope with cancer

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by Cancer Research UK | News

7 April 2005

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White patients cope better with the pressure of cancer than their British Asian counterparts according to research published on-line today (Thursday) in the British Journal of Cancer1.

Researchers carried out the study in Leicester, and looked at coping styles among 200 white and British Asian cancer patients. They found ‘denial’ was top of the strategies used by British Asians.

Conversely, more white patients coped with their illness by not dwelling on their cancer compared with British Asian patients. This attitude has been linked to less anxiety and depression.

About half of British Asians surveyed said they did not really believe that they had cancer, despite being told and agreeing to cancer treatment compared with less than a third of white patients. In both groups denial was linked to an increase in depression.

The study based in Leicester applied a rating system used in hospitals to find out how depressed or anxious patients were by looking at their answers to a standard questionnaire.

The combination of answers threw new light on how an ethnically diverse Britain copes with cancer diagnosis.

British Asian patients felt more helpless and were also likelier to be depressed and to feel that fate controlled events.

Dr Paul Symonds, one of the researchers at the University of Leicester, says: “Leicester has a large ethnic minority population. In order to provide optimal support for all patients we need to know how different ethnic groups cope with a diagnosis of cancer. Asian patients seem to suffer greater psychological distress following a diagnosis of cancer. We intend to conduct further studies in a larger group of patients to study whether Asians and white patients understand cancer in different ways.”

Kate Law, Head of Clinical Trials at Cancer Research UK, owners of the British Journal of Cancer, says: “This is an interesting study which includes the British Asian community when looking at coping styles used to deal with cancer. In this study, the British Asian patients appear to have an unhealthy attitude to a cancer diagnosis, often leading to depression, whereas white patients seem to deal with it better and have a better outlook. This could be down to many factors, but if misunderstanding of cancer is one, then the NHS may need to focus on a targeted education campaign once this work has been further substantiated.”


  1. British Journal of Cancer92 (8)