Black women in N.S. less likely to get tested for breast and cervical cancers, study finds

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Black women in Nova Scotia are less likely than white women to get mammograms and PAP tests that screen for breast and cervical cancer, a new review out of the University of Toronto has found.

The study, which was published this month in the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, looked at all the research authors could find in the last 15 years on black Canadian women and breast and cervical cancer. 

The paper also concludes that even though black Canadians are the third largest minority group in the country, there is a lack of health data being collected relating to race and ethnicity in Canada.

“We didn’t have a large number of studies, that’s part of the problem,” said lead author Dr. Onye Nnorom.

The few studies researchers could find suggested black Nova Scotians were less likely to be tested. They also found that Caribbean immigrants in Ontario were slightly more likely to be tested than white Canadians, while immigrants from sub-Saharan African were less likely.

While the researchers found studies on mammography in black communities, they did not find any information on the death rates or how common the risk level is for black women in Canada.

Health data in the United States and the U.K. shows that black women are diagnosed later, are dying at a younger age and are at higher risk than white women when it comes to incidence of breast and cervical cancer.

“But one of the things that came out a little bit in some of the studies were experiences of racism, particularly coming out of Nova Scotia with regards to in the health-care system being discriminated against,” Nnorom said.

“And I think we need more research that looks at the experiences of people of colour when they’re accessing health care because it looks like that is also a barrier when it comes to health outcomes.”

Sharon Davis-Murdoch is co-president of the Health Association of African Canadians in Dartmouth, N.S. (Submitted by Sharon Davis-Murdoch)

The Health Association of African Canadians in Dartmouth, N.S., has been advocating for the collection of disaggregated Nova Scotia health data for the last 20 years.

“We’ve requested it because we need to inform the health system, including providers of care and African-Nova Scotians themselves, about African-Nova Scotian health status,” said the association’s co–president, Sharon Davis-Murdoch.

“This data will support evidence-based health research on our health issues and … prioritize decision-making for the provision of health services.”

Right now in Nova Scotia, there is no information available on how many people of African ancestry live with high blood pressure, diabetes, sickle cell anemia, cancer and other diseases.

In February, the association received a letter from the ministers of health and African Nova Scotian Affairs stating that they want to move forward with the collection of this data.

Keisha Jefferies is a registered nurse and a PhD candidate in nursing at Dalhousie University in Halifax. (Daniel Abriel)

Keisha Jefferies, a registered nurse and PhD candidate in nursing at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said having this data is important for a number of reasons.

“We are beginning to see pieces of evidence that are revealing the fact that African-Nova Scotians are predisposed and more likely to experience certain chronic illnesses and conditions,” she said.

“We do have evidence that does point to African-Nova Scotians being more likely and more susceptible to high blood pressure, to diabetes, as well as mental illness.

“So additional data is needed to understand what is going on within the black community and to strengthen any research going forward.”

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