Research from PIF member Cancer Research UK and NHS Digital has revealed black women from Caribbean and African backgrounds are more likely to be diagnosed with certain types of cancer at later stages.

Black women were more likely to be diagnosed at stages 3 or 4 when treatment is less likely to be successful.

The study is the first to show ethnicity is a significant factor in late-stage diagnosis for women with breast, ovarian, uterine, non-small cell lung cancer and colon cancer, and for men with prostate cancer.

Late-stage cancer diagnosis

The study included almost 700,000 diagnoses of 6 cancer types: breast, colon, non-small cell lung, ovary, prostate and uterine, in people across five ethnic groups in England from 2012-2016. 

These groups were white British, Caribbean, African, Chinese and Asian.

It found Caribbean women are more likely to receive a late-stage diagnosis than white women for all six of the cancer types included in the study.

African women have higher odds of being diagnosed with late-stage breast, uterine, colon and ovarian cancers.

In the case of uterine cancer, both Caribbean and African women are significantly more likely to be diagnosed at stages 3 and 4 than white women.

South Asian women, which includes those from Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani backgrounds, are at higher odds of being diagnosed with late-stage breast and ovarian cancers.

Reasons for inequalities

Evidence from previous research suggests what some of the reasons for these inequalities might be.

A survey carried out by YouGov for Cancer Research UK, found women from an ethnic minority background were more likely to report they did not know any warning signs and symptoms of cancer compared to white women (23% vs 12%).

When asked what previously put them off or delay speaking to a medical professional, women from an ethnic minority background were more likely to report finding it embarrassing and not feeling confident talking about their symptoms.

They were also more likely to report being worried about how their pay or earnings would be affected if they needed further tests or treatment (5% vs 1%) and to anticipate difficulties with remote consultations (10% vs 6%).

Actions being taken

Cancer Research UK's cancer awareness training programme, Talk Cancer, aims to help reduce health inequalities by prioritising training in locations where more people are affected by cancer.

The training empowers people to have impactful conversations with others in the community about cancer and health. 

It focuses on changes people can control to reduce their risk of developing cancer, the importance of early diagnosis and the national screening programmes.

It also helps to reduce the stigma around talking openly about cancer and breaks down barriers people may have in seeking help.

To help reach key groups in the community who face extra barriers to accessing health information due to language and specific beliefs, Talk Cancer is now offering cancer awareness workshops in any language.

The team can tailor the workshop content to be relevant and culturally sensitive to specific communities. 

For example, Talk Cancer recently ran interpreted workshops in Punjabi and Urdu for South-Asian communities in Bradford.

This included information on the impacts of shisha use, which is more prevalent in some South Asian communities than the general population.

Before the workshops, 16% of participants described themselves as very confident in their ability to discuss cancer with others. After the workshop, that rose to 57%.

Read more about the study and its findings via the CRUK website here.