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To minimize breast and cervical cancer diagnoses and fatalities, communities should eliminate barriers, promote motivators, and increase access to supporting screening services, according to a recent study.

Breast and cervical cancer rates are high among women in the United States. Lung cancer is the primary cause of cancer-related deaths in US women, with breast cancer as the second leading cause. Early detection through screening can help identify cancer in its early stages, when it is most treatable, and can increase survival rates. However, disparities in breast and cervical cancer screening based on race and ethnicity contribute to delayed diagnosis, which increases the risk of adverse outcomes and death for women of color.

A study in the journal Cancer examined the factors influencing breast and cervical cancer screenings among women in Rhode Island.

Participant Characteristics
A community organization in Rhode Island recruited women over the age of 40 to participate in online focus groups using the Zoom platform, with the majority identifying as black (28%) or Hispanic (38%). Ideas, attitudes, opinions, and experiences with screening were the primary subjects of the conversations.

Fear, Ignorance, Culture, and Women’s Caregiving as Personal Barriers

Participants described the changing dynamics of family households and how, currently, many women work long hours on top of being primarily responsible for raising children. According to participants, women’s significant responsibilities were identified as a barrier to accessing screening services. They also mentioned that the gender of the healthcare provider can influence their comfort level during the procedure. Additionally, fear of the screening process and lack of knowledge were primary obstacles.

Communication Issues as Systemic Barriers and Motivators for Women
Language barriers leading to ineffective communication and problem-solving were significant obstacles between doctors and their patients. Women of color have reported unfavorable healthcare experiences and a general lack of trust in the medical establishment. Participants acknowledged the relevance of family history in identifying risk, encouragement from health providers, and the adoption of clinic reminders to increase screening rates as motivators.

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Strategies to Boost Women’s Cancer Screening
Participants shared several suggestions for improving cancer screening, such as forming partnerships with community- and faith-based organizations, tailoring educational strategies to different age groups, and communicating with physicians to address barriers to cancer screening for women. The results of the study reinforce the need for doctors to acquire cultural competency and a heightened understanding of community obstacles through continuing medical education courses.

MacKinnon, K., Risica, P. M., Von Ash, T., Scharf, A., & Lamy, E. (2023). Barriers and motivators to women’s cancer screening: A qualitative study of a sample of diverse women. Cancer, 129(S19), 3152–3161. https://doi.org/10.1002/cncr.34653