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Many BC immigrants are not getting screened for breast cancer

Many women who have immigrated to British Columbia are not being screened for breast cancer according to new research by BC Cancer and the University of British Columbia.
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​The study, published in Cancer Medicine and funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, found that a lower proportion of women eligible for screening mammography who have immigrated to BC from Eastern Europe, Central Asia, South Korea, India, China, Macau, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Philippines have received a screening mammogram.

"Our study demonstrates that although the breast screening participation rates in BC are only slightly lower for immigrant women compared to non-immigrant women, some specific subpopulations had much lower participation rates," says Ryan Woods, scientific director of the BC Cancer Registry at BC Cancer, PhD Candidate in the School of Population and Public Health at UBC and the lead author of the study. "That said, it's encouraging that we also found very little difference in the re-screening rates of immigrant women compared to non-immigrant women, and the immigrant lowest and highest rates within subpopulations were very similar."  

Screening mammography participation rates in BC for some immigrant subpopulations:

East Europe/Central Asia: 37.9%
South Korea: 39%
India: 44.5%
China/Macau/Hong Kong/Taiwan: 45.7%
Philippines: 45.9%
non-immigrants: 51.2%
all British Columbians 50.3%

Women between the ages of 40 to 74 are eligible for screening mammograms in British Columbia. BC Cancer recommends annual screening for women aged 40-74 with a first degree relative (mother, daughter or sister) with breast cancer and screening every two years for women between 50 and 74 without family history of breast cancer.

Having a primary care physician appears to be an important factor in whether or not a woman gets screened for breast cancer, consistent with other cancer screening research. According to this study, women who had increased contact with a family doctor were significantly more likely to have received a mammogram than those who did not.

Some immigrants, particularly those from Korea and China, showed a relatively higher number of women who did not have contact with a primary care physician, over the study period. While only five per cent of non-immigrant women showed no contact with a primary care physician, nearly 15 per cent of both Korean and Chinese women had no such contact, which may have contributed to the lower screening participation rates.

The study also found that only approximately 52 per cent of all eligible women in the province received a mammogram in the two year study period.

"Despite lower screening rates among some immigrant populations, it's important to realize that just over half of all eligible women in BC are getting screened for breast cancer," says Janette Sam, operations director for BC Cancer Breast Screening and an author on the study. "This is far below targets set by Canadian cancer screening expert advisory panels and requires that we enhance our efforts to promote breast cancer screening in BC."

BC Cancer has abundant information available online about breast cancer screening, including information about who should get a mammogram, what to expect and where to find a clinic. This information is available in a variety of languages.   

"We appreciate that cultural differences may impact a woman's decision to screen for breast cancer," says Dr. John Spinelli, Vice President of Population Oncology at BC Cancer, Professor at UBC and the study's Principal Investigator. "We intend to use the results of this study to enhance our efforts to improve breast cancer screening within specific immigrant communities."

About 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. Regular screening mammograms can find breast cancer early, usually before it has spread. To book a mammogram, call 1-800-663-9203.

Media inquiries:

Kevin Sauve
Communications Officer, BC Cancer
Provincial Health Services Authority
PHSA media line: 778-867-7472

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