Despite illuminating statistics in the UK which show that African Caribbean men are three times more likely to develop prostate cancer than white men1 and that mouth cancer is more common among South Asian and Chinese communities2, evidence suggests that barriers exist for ethnic minorities in accessing cancer information and services.
Created by the Cancer Equality charity and supported by an alliance of leading cancer charities, Ethnic Minority Cancer Awareness Week (EMCA Week) aims to call to action a range of organisations including health service providers and policy makers to improve services for ethnic minority communities by signing up to a statement.
EMCA Week will be an annual national event, with a focus on London this year, a city with around 45% of its population belonging to an ethnic minority group3 making it one of the most diverse and vibrant cities in the world.
To kick start a week of activities, a launch event will be taking place today at the House of Commons with speakers, policy makers, service providers and community organisations all sharing experiences and best practice as well as exploring ways of improving cancer services for ethnic minority communities. Speakers will include Ann Keen (Minister for Cancer), Sadiq Khan (MP and host for the launch event), Dr Ian Gibson (Chair for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Cancer), Paula Lloyd (National Cancer Action Team), Sir Trevor MacDonald (Broadcaster and cancer charity supporter) and Eddie Nestor (Broadcaster and cancer survivor).
MP Ann Keen commented: “We know that there is a need to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of cancer in BME communities; that is why I am delighted to support this initiative and its aims. Reducing health inequalities and encouraging anyone with symptoms to seek help earlier than they do now are key priorities for this Government.”
Evidence of inequalities in cancer care
Despite progress and the improving results in the last decade, cancer care in the UK seems to be failing ethnic minorities, as there are real inequalities in terms of who gets cancer and what happens to them when they do. For example, recent studies have indicated that black women may be developing breast cancer much earlier than their white contemporaries by at least two decades4; however the UK’s breast screening programme is only aimed at women aged between 47 and 70. Another study showed that 45% of the over-50s BME women said they had never been to a breast-screening appointment and of these 76% said it was because they had not been invited5.
Low cancer awareness amongst ethnic minority communities
EMCA Week also aims to encourage individuals from ethnic minority communities to take an active role in reducing their risk of developing cancer by also agreeing to a statement. Research shows that awareness is very low with 32% of BME women saying they did not know much about breast cancer and 43% do not practice breast awareness5.
Jennifer Layburn of Cancer Equality and chair of the alliance comments: We are hoping that after 60 years of the NHS, drastic changes will be made towards implementing a cancer reform strategy that reflects the health needs of our diverse communities. There needs to be systematic recording of robust ethnicity data within cancer services to help healthcare professionals working in the field of cancer to better understand the BME community’s health needs. This distinct shortage of information also needs to be addressed by developing more culturally sensitive, easy to understand and easily accessible information.”