Muslims and Cancer Screening
Research and medical professionals have taunted early screening as one of the most effective methods for treatment and management of cancer. Incidences of cervical cancer among other types of cancer have fallen significantly due to the implementation of screening programs in the developed world (Modibbo et al., 2015; Padela et al., 2014). However, even with such advances and programs in cancer screening, Muslims remain disproportionately disadvantaged in accessing such programs, largely due to cultural and religious barriers (Matin & LeBaron, 2004). The consequence of the barriers is grave for the Muslims, including death and late diagnosis, therefore the need for action to improve the health outcomes among the Muslims.
Research by Thomas, Saleem and Abraham (2005) indicates that among Muslims, especially women, cultural and religious beliefs, lack of knowledge, language barriers, illiteracy and preference for traditional remedies are among the barriers to the access and uptake of both cervical and breast cancer screening. In the US and other developed countries there is an association between lack of access to cancer screening, (particularly cervical cancer) and socioeconomic factors, racial and ethnic affiliation as well as immigrant status (Padela et al., 2014). For cervical cancer, therefore, the socioeconomic status, racial and ethnic affiliations are among the most prominent barriers to screening. Accordingly, with a culture biased against women and education of women, Muslim women tend to be illiterate and therefore have little to no knowledge on cancer screening (Matin & LeBaron, 2004; Padela et al., 2014). Illiteracy and lack of knowledge thus prevent the women from accessing screening services for both cervical and breast cancer screening.
Further, due to their immigrant status in the developed countries, language difference is yet another barrier to the access and uptake of screening for immigrant Muslim women. According to Salman (2012), language barrier, cultural and religious obligations bar the Muslim from accessing breast and cervical cancer screening services. The fact that these women are not proficient in English, therefore, makes it difficult for them to seek screening services, even when the services as free as is the case of breast screening in the UK (Thomas, Saleem & Abraham, 2005).
Lack of knowledge of the procedure additionally creates a barrier for the Muslim women. A study of women in the United Arab Emirates indicates that while some of these women have knowledge of cervical cancer screening, most had not undergone the procedure because of feelings of embarrassment, belief that the screening will be painful, while others considered themselves healthy and therefore did not need any screening (Khan & Woolhead, 2015). The lack of knowledge on the symptoms and the need for screening, therefore, are among the main barriers to screening for cervical cancer among Muslim women.
The women hold on to these beliefs even when the risks of not undergoing screening remain grave. Among the risks is death from the cancers, which screening may have a better chance of preventing. Additionally, not undergoing screening makes it difficult for the treatment of the disease, whose discovery may come at an advanced stage where treatment is futile. Individuals benefit from early diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The individual can only enjoy these benefits through early screening.
However, even with these cultural and religious barriers, the prevalence of different cancers among Muslims is relatively low. This is largely due to the religion forbidding some foods such as meat and alcohol. According to a report by the World Health Organization, the incidence of cancer (breast cancer) in most Muslim countries is relatively low, with the US leading with 101 incidences for every 100,000 people (Al-Dahir, 2010). Oman, Bangladesh, Iran and Tajikistan had the lowest rates at less than 20 for every 100,000 people. Muslim countries with relatively high incidences of cancer (between 40 and 60) include Bosnia (60), Lebanon (52) and Pakistan (50) (Al-Dahir, 2010).
The risk of death and advancement of cancer is high among Muslims, especially women, due to the barriers to screening. Language, cultural and religious beliefs as well as illiteracy and lack of knowledge are among the barriers to screening for cancer among Muslims. Incorporating Muslim-oriented services as well as personnel in the screening centers can go a long way in encouraging the Muslims to undergo screening. Additionally, awareness on the benefits of screening is necessary especially for the illiterate. Screening is beneficial and undergoing it is the first step in the prevention and treatment of cancer.
Al-Dahir, S. (2010). Incorporating Islamic Principles and Spirituality into Health Advocacy: A Case for Breast Cancer Awareness. Xavier University of Louisia
Khan, S. & Woolhead, G. (2015). Perspectives on cervical cancer screening among educated Muslim women in Dubai (the UAE): A qualitative study. BMC Women’s Health, 15, 90-103
Matin, M. & LeBaron, S. (2004). Attitudes towards cervical cancer screening among Muslim women: A pilot study. Women & Health, 39(3), 63-77