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Raising awareness of cancer among black and minority ethnic communities

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by Cancer Research UK | News

7 July 2008

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Sir Trevor Macdonald is calling on Britain’s cancer community to help raise levels of awareness about the disease that cuts a swathe through the country’s Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities as much as it hits the rest of the population.

Cancer Research UK is working with other charities to launch Ethnic Minority Cancer Awareness Week (EMCAW) at the House of Commons on Monday (July 7th) where Sir Trevor will highlight some of the specific cancer risks that beset BME communities in the UK.

These include:

  • Black women being more likely to get breast cancer at a younger age and have a more aggressive form of the disease.
  • South Asian people having a higher incidence of mouth cancer.
  • Bangladeshi and Chinese communities having a higher incidence of liver cancer.

At the launch, hosted by MPs Dr Ian Gibson and Sadiq Khan, and attended by TV presenter Konnie Huq, Sir Trevor said: “According to Cancer Research UK half of all cancers could be prevented by changes to lifestyle and it is vital that we get that message across to Britain’s many and varied BME communities.

“Raising awareness about the signs and symptoms of cancer means that the disease is more likely to be caught in the early stages and allow patients the best chance of recovery. Providing information about how to change your lifestyle to reduce your risk of getting cancer is as important as developing new treatments and drugs to combat the disease.”

Black and minority ethnic communities are less likely to recognise signs and symptoms of cancer compared to the general population.

Community leaders also report that barriers exist which can delay members of an ethnic community from accessing available information and cancer services. And this, in turn, may affect diagnosis and survival.

A Cancer Research UK commissioned report has found one of the main problems is poor collection of ethnic data. And this can lead to resources failing to reach those in need. Researchers concluded that official ethnic categories need to change to represent new migration patterns and mixed populations.

Professor Janet Dunn, lead investigator of the report and based at the University of Warwick, said: “We carried out a series of black and minority ethnic focus groups as part of the study and found that most participants would be happy to provide details of their ethnic background as long as it was explained this was for health care reasons.

“But professionals reported that they sometimes feel uncomfortable asking for a patient’s ethnicity for fear of giving offence.”

Vanessa Gordon-Dseagu, Cancer Research UK’s health inequalities manager, said: “We hope the community-based events taking place this week will bring greater awareness of cancer to people who need to access information and cancer services.”

The alliance is also encouraging people from ethnic minority communities to take a more active role in reducing their risk of developing cancer by signing a statement pledging that they will:

  • Know what is normal for their body and see their doctor if they notice any changes.
  • Take part in the national cancer screening services available to them.
  • Find out about the national screening services they are entitled to and the things they can do to reduce their own risk of developing cancer.

Other charities taking part in the awareness week with Cancer Research UK include Cancer Equality, The Afiya Trust, the African Carribean Leukaemia Trust, Breast Cancer Care, Beating Bowel Cancer, Macmillan Cancer Support, Help the Hospices, Marie Curie Cancer Care and the Prostate Cancer Charity.


For media enquiries please contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 7061 8300, or the out of hours’ duty press officer on 07050 264059.