Researchers are investigating the barriers that members of the black African community in the UK can face to attending breast cancer screening in a new research project funded by Breast Cancer Now.
The research and support charity has awarded funding of £114,167 to Dr Melanie Cooper at the University of Bradford to find ways to encourage black African women to go to their NHS breast screening appointments.
Black African women are less likely to go to their breast screening appointment, compared to other communities in the UK. Previous studies indicate only 49% of black African women who are invited to breast screening go to their appointment, compared to 67% of white women and 63% of black Caribbean women*.
This is particularly concerning as breast screening is a key tool in helping to detect breast cancer at the earliest possible stage, when treatment is most likely to be successful.
Black women are also more likely to be diagnosed with more advanced breast cancers, with 25% of black African women and 22% of black Caribbean women diagnosed with stage 3 or 4 breast cancer at diagnosis compared with 13% of white women**.
Dr Melanie Cooper and her team are experts in working together with ethnic minority communities and their new research aims to shed light on what stops black African women from attending their breast screening appointments and how to find ways to encourage more of them to go.
We need breast screening to be easily accessible to everyone who is eligible in order to maximise the number of people taking up their invite. As part of Breast Cancer Now’s #NoTimeToWaste campaign, we’re also calling for the government to urgently invest in breast screening to make services more inclusive, remove barriers to attendance, and ensure it has the staff and resources needed to offer high quality care, now and in decades to come.
To understand the barriers and challenges that may be contributing to poorer attendance at breast screening appointments, the researchers will work closely with black African women to develop a new programme that could help increase attendance.
Black African women will be invited to test the programme and changes will be made according to their feedback.
Drawing on the results of this study, the researchers will provide a set of recommendations to healthcare professionals, charities and voluntary sector organisations for UK African women to better support and encourage black African women to go to screening.
Dr Melanie Cooper said: “We are delighted to receive the funding to do this important work where we hope to make a difference to black African women's lives by making sure breast cancer is picked up early. Because the earlier breast cancer is diagnosed, the better chance of successful treatment.
“The study will explore three aspects needed to encourage women to change their behaviour – capability, opportunity, and motivation. Capability relates to the women knowing about breast cancer and the importance of screening. Opportunity is whether their environment allows them to go for screening, and both of these influence their motivation to take up breast cancer screening.”
Ugomma Nwadinigwe, a researcher working on the study, said: “It is great to have the opportunity to carry out this research. From my experience, breast cancer screening is a very important area for women, especially black African women, as it ensures early detection, awareness and optimal access to breast screening. The research will explore key factors that influence breast cancer screening in black African women in the UK.
“The screening itself is important, but it’s also important to explore through research, ways to increase breast cancer screening uptake in black African women in the UK. In order to avoid late presentation or late detection of aggressive or metastatic breast cancer.”
Dr Simon Vincent, Breast Cancer Now’s director of research, support and influencing said: “Building an accurate and detailed picture of the barriers in breast cancer screening uptake among black African women is the first critical step towards earlier diagnosis and more women surviving the disease. Breast Cancer Now is delighted to be funding this research which will reveal key lessons for the healthcare system, and organisations such as Breast Cancer Now, so we can continue to best shape our support to encourage black African women to attend their screening appointments.”
Olajumoke OIasope, 60, from Dagenham, London, was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in 2018, aged 55, and believes that it’s important that myths surrounding breast cancer are dispelled within the black African community:
She says: “There’s a lot of myths and beliefs surrounding cancer within the black African community, particularly based upon the religious beliefs, including the myth that black people do not get cancer. But we know this is not true, and it’s so important that myths like this are dispelled. Research like this plays such an important part in creating awareness of breast cancer among black African women and educating them why it’s vital they attend breast screening when they’re invited to an appointment.’
At Breast Cancer Now, we encourage all women to attend breast screening appointments when invited and regularly check their breasts, reporting any unusual changes to their GP as soon as possible. We’re here for anyone affected by breast cancer, providing support for today and hope for the future. Find out more at: breastcancernow.org
To find out more about how breast cancer affects different communities and further resources, please visit our Ethnic communities hub | Breast Cancer Now
Breast Cancer Now’s life-saving research is only possible thanks to the incredible generosity of its supporters. This project’s funding was supported by the Asda Tickled Pink campaign.
Notes to editor
**Ethnicity and stage at diagnosis. National cancer registration and analysis service data briefing. (2016). Public Health England and Cancer Research UK
About Breast Cancer Now:
If you’re experiencing breast cancer we’re here, whenever you need us. Be it through our support services, trusted breast cancer information or our specialist nurses who you can reach via our free Helpline and 24/7 Online Forum. Backed by dedicated campaigners, we’re fighting for the best possible treatment, services, and care, for anyone affected by breast cancer. And support from our amazing fundraisers helps ensure our life-saving research and life-changing support can happen.
If you’re worried about breast cancer, or have a question about breast health, we’re here to support you every step of the way. Speak to our expert nurses now by calling our free helpline on 0808 800 6000 or visit forum.breastcancernow.org