New Brunswick

Arabic-speaking refugees face barriers getting mammograms, UNB researcher finds

A University of New Brunswick researcher has launched a study to better understand social and cultural barriers to mammogram screening for Arabic-speaking refugees in the province.

Language and culture barriers get in the way of early cancer detection and better chances of recovery

Man speaking to class
Dr. David Busolo, an assistant professor in the Univeristy of New Brunswick's faculty of nursing, is researching access to early screening for breast cancer. (Submitted by Univeristy of New Brunswick)

A researcher at the University of New Brunswick has launched a study to better understand the social and cultural barriers Arabic-speaking refugees face in getting mammograms.

David Busolo, an assistant professor in the faculty of nursing, said he started by trying to find out who has the most barriers and least access to breast-cancer screening. He identified Arabic-speaking refugee women

"Some of the challenges were issues related to language … so it was challenging to communicate with care providers or when they receive information in the mail," he told Information Morning Saint John.

"The other aspect was competing priorities and particularly for women who are within the child-bearing age if they have young families."

According to the Department of Health, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime in Canada. 

The earlier the cancer is diagnosed, the more likely it is the patient will survive at least five years. 

Busolo said cultural and resource differences may get in the way of that early screening.

In New Brunswick, the Department of Healths sends letters in the mail as a way to promote early screening, and those letters are in English.

Aside from language, cultural barriers and economic factors can also get in the way.

"If the person providing the mammogram is, for example, a male provider or the physician is a male, it could be challenging," he said. "Having a female provider could be a positive thing to improve how they access [tests]."

Interviews with all involved

He said the plan is for the project to have three phases. The first would be to look at the documents and policies about how mammograms are provided to people right now, and how people are contacted when it's time for a scan. 

The second would be to interview everyone involved — Arabic speaking women, Arabic-speaking men, health-care providers and social service providers.

"The social service provider here could be those who work with them in their settlement organizations like the Multicultural Association," he said.

The third phase would be to analyze all the data collected and find ways to make the tests more accessible. For example, if language is an issue, provide translation services. 

Busolo said whatever lessons the researchers uncover could be applied to other vulnerable populations 

"This could be like the people who are experiencing homelessness, or Indigenous groups," he said.

A hand with a gold watch on the wrist gestures toward a screen showing side-by-side mammogram images in shades of blue.
The earlier breast cancer is diagnosed, the more likely it is for the patient to survive at least five years. (Torin Halsey/Times Record News/The Associated Press)

He said if researchers don't find what the barriers are, policy makers won't be able to address them.

"Without carrying out this research, you might likely just stay in the status quo," he said.

The project recently received a Canadian Cancer Society grant designed to reduce cancer-related health inequities.

According to UNB, the research also involves its sociology department, professors from Dalhousie University and the Toronto Metropolitan University, the Refugee Clinic in Moncton, Arabic-speaking community members, the New Brunswick Cancer Network and the Multicultural Association Network of Fredericton.

With files from Information Morning Saint John