Immigrant women less likely to get screened for breast cancer, study finds

The research, published in the journal Cancer Medicine, found that breast cancer screening patterns during the two-year study period were very different depending on a woman's country of birth.

Cultural and language barriers, lack of family doctor among reasons cited in B.C. Cancer/UBC research

B.C. Cancer says a little more than half of B.C.'s non-immigrant women get tested for breast cancer, while around a third of immigrants from Eastern European and Central Asian countries are screened.

Many immigrant women in B.C. are not getting screened for breast cancer as often as women born in Canada, according to a study conducted by B.C. Cancer and the University of British Columbia

The research, published in the journal Cancer Medicine, found that breast cancer screening patterns during the two-year study period were very different depending on a woman's country of birth. 

"Our study demonstrates that although the breast screening participation rates in B.C. are only slightly lower for immigrant women compared to non-immigrant women, some specific subpopulations had much lower participation rates," said Ryan Woods, lead author and scientific director of the B.C. Cancer Registry.

While non-immigrant women showed average mammography participation rates of 51.2 per cent, several Eastern European and Asian countries had lower screening rates, including:

  • East Europe/Central Asia — 33.9 per cent
  • South Korea — 39 per cent
  • India — 44.5 per cent
  • China/Macau/Hong Kong/Taiwan — 45.7 per cent
  • Philippines — 45.9 per cent

Cultural and language barriers

Woods says the lower rates could be attributed to a number of reasons, including the language barrier and cultural challenges. 

He says immigrant women may not know the value of breast cancer screening if the test is not common in their home country, and they may not fully understand material in Canada promoting the screening and explaining the process. 

Citing other cancer-screening research, Woods says a few cases supported the notion that having a family doctor was an important factor in whether a woman gets tested. 

Woods says B.C. Cancer is hoping to use this information to start planning interventions. 

"I think that's an opportunity there, that we can perhaps intervene through family physicians to encourage screening," said Woods. 

He says B.C. Cancer's screening program has put together a social media campaign with short videos that explain the value of screening, and what to expect, in several different languages.

How often should women get screened?

Woods adds that the screening rate of 51.2 per cent for non-immigrant women still isn't close to B.C. Cancer's goal of 70 per cent. 

B.C. Cancer says one in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, and recommends regular screening. 

The agency says it provides free mammograms for women between the ages of 40 and 74, without a doctor's referral. 

Women with a first-degree relative — mother, sister or daughter — who has had breast cancer are nearly twice as likely to develop the disease, and are advised by B.C. Cancer to get a mammogram every year. 

Those without a family history of breast cancer between the ages of 50 to 74 are recommended to get a mammogram every two years. 

Women aged 75 and older are eligible for the test every two to three years. 

To book a mammogram, call B.C. Cancer's screening programs client services centre at 1-800-663-9203.

With files from CBC's On the Coast

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Cory Correia

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Cory Correia is a reporter with CBC Vancouver. Send him an email at cory.correia@cbc.ca