South Asians "tremendously under screened" for cancer

01 October 2013

Toronto -

Regular screening for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer saves lives by finding cancer early enough for successful treatment. However, research has shown that some ethnic communities are significantly less likely to get tested than the general population for a variety of cultural, linguistic and economic reasons. Among these under-screened groups are South Asian Canadians.

“Only about 20% of older South Asian women living in poor neighbourhoods have been screened for cervical cancer, for example,” says Dr Aisha Lofters, a family physician and clinician scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital’s Department of Family and Community Medicine in Toronto. “In contrast, among Canadian-born women living in the highest-income neighbourhoods, almost 80% have been appropriately screened.”

Dr Lofters has received a new Knowledge to Action grant from the Canadian Cancer Society to tackle the under-screening issue in the South Asian population in Peel Region.

Ontario is home to one of Canada’s largest South Asian communities, many of whom live in Peel, just northwest of Toronto. Peel is the second-largest municipality in Ontario after Toronto, and includes the cities of Brampton and Mississauga and the town of Caledon. Approximately 25% of the population of Peel region is of South Asian ethnicity.

While most screening initiatives target patients directly, Dr Lofters’ study will engage family physicians to address the reluctance and encourage screening uptake among their South Asian patients. The participating doctors will share their findings (what worked and what didn’t) with their medical colleagues.

Strategies to be used may include: 
  • shorter wait times for appointments; interpretation services; transportation help (such as subway tokens); and hours that don’t interfere with employment and other responsibilities 
  • educational materials that are well-translated, easy-to-understand, include endorsements from credible community sources and are distributed through South Asian media outlets. These may include information about: 
    • cancer screening – what’s involved, how often to get it done, and that it’s free of cost
    • cancer risk factors
    • the success of cancer treatments
    • using the health care system for prevention, before you get sick
The South Asian population in Peel is tremendously under-screened and therefore much more vulnerable to cancer death. This can be prevented,” says Dr Lofters. “We believe that doctors can play an important role in encouraging patients to get screening by using just a few simple and sensitive strategies.”

For the purposes of this study, South Asians were defined as people with Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi or Sri Lankan ancestry, with varied religious beliefs and linguistic preferences, born both inside and outside of Canada.

“The work Dr Lofters is conducting with the South Asian community in Peel Region has already improved our understanding of why some populations remain under screened,” says Dr Sian Bevan, Director of Research, Canadian Cancer Society. “With her new Knowledge to Action grant, she will be able to take that understanding and apply it to changing the way primary care providers work with under-screened populations to raise screening rates, prevent more cancers, and save more lives.  We designed the Knowledge to Action program as a way to support exceptional researchers like Dr Lofters who have the vision to create practical, evidence-informed solutions to persistent problems in cancer prevention, treatment and care.”

About the Knowledge to Action Grants

The Knowledge to Action grants are a new grants program that encourages ideas that will close the gap between what is known from research and what is done with that knowledge with the aim of improving outcomes and experiences of cancer patients and their families. The Society awarded 6 new grants worth almost $600,000.

Backgrounder: More about the Knowledge to Action Grants

About the Canadian Cancer Society

For 75 years, the Canadian Cancer Society has been with Canadians in the fight for life. We have been relentless in our commitment to prevent cancer, fund research and support Canadians touched by cancer. From this foundation, we will work with Canadians to change cancer forever so fewer Canadians are diagnosed with the disease and more survive. Visit or call us at 1-888-939-3333 (TTY 1-866-786-3934).

For more information, please contact:

Brooke Kelly

Communications Coordinator

Canadian Cancer Society

National office

Phone: 416-934-5321