Survey reveals black and minority ethnic communities unaware of cervical cancer risk

Published 13th July, 2009

Women from black, Asian and minority ethnic groups are less sure of their cervical cancer risk than white women, according to a Populus poll commissioned by the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes.

The survey, which involved more than 1,500 women from varied ethnic backgrounds, has been released to coincide with Ethnic Minority Cancer Awareness Week 2009. The results revealed that nearly a third (32 per cent, or 246 women) of non-white women polled were unsure about their risk of developing cervical cancer compared to other women of their age. In comparison only about a fifth (18 per cent or 143 women) of white women surveyed felt equally unsure about their level of risk.

The survey also revealed differences in general awareness of the risks of cervical cancer. While over half (56 per cent, or 433 women) of white women polled considered themselves very aware of the risks associated with the disease only 36 per cent (279 women) of non-white women felt confident they were aware of the risks.

Approximately 2,800 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer annually1 and it is the second most common form of cancer among women under the age of 35.

Responding to the statistics, Prof. Julietta Patnick, Director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes, said "We are currently working very hard to reach women from black and minority ethnic groups with the message that cervical screening saves lives. We want to help women from these groups to make informed choices about screening and provide them with the reassurance they need to make the right decisions for themselves."

Jennifer Layburn, Chairman of the alliance of charities organising Ethnic Minority Cancer Awareness Week, said:

"This confirms the need for the ethnic minority awareness campaign. If women from these communities are not aware of their risks it is little wonder that they do not fully appreciate the need for screening. The ethnic minority communities do not always think that the general awareness messages are about them, hence the need for targeted messages that speak directly to these communities."

The poll suggested that among those women who declined a screening invitation, the majority did so because they were worried the experience would be painful (34 per cent) or embarrassing (31 per cent). A significant number (21 per cent) believed that there would be nothing wrong with them.

Commenting on the results of the survey, Prof. Patnick said, "Although it is true that some women find cervical screening uncomfortable, the benefits of accepting your screening invitation are significant. It is a relatively quick procedure and one that saves an estimated 4,500 lives in England each year. The NHS Cancer Screening Programmes are currently working with the Improvement Foundation to tackle barriers to cervical screening at a local level. We would encourage all women to consider their cancer screening invitations carefully."

This survey is part of an ongoing effort to educate and inform women of the benefits of cervical cancer screening among BME communities. The NHS Cancer Screening Programmes funded research authored by Prof. Ala Szczepura at Warwick University looking into bowel and breast cancer screening uptake rates among members of the South Asian community.

1Cancer Research UK 2008

Further Results

1. Those who described themselves as 'very aware' of cervical cancer and the risks associated with it -
Asian women - 31 per cent (75 Women)
White women - 56 per cent (433 Women)

2. Those who answered that 'they presumed nothing was wrong with them' when asked why they had turned down a cervical screening invitation
Black women - 26 per cent (32 Women)
White women - 15 per cent (20 Women)

3. Those women who answered 'don't know' when asked how likely they thought they would develop cervical cancer compared to other women of the same age
White women - 18 per cent (143 Women)
Non-white women - 32 per cent (246 Women)

  • The survey asked 1,546 women 9 questions about their knowledge and participation in the NHS cervical screening programme.
  • The survey population was made up of women from a variety of ethnicities including 1,012 white women and 534 non-white women.
  • The women, who were all aged 18+, were polled between 19th and 24th November 2008.
  • "Asian women" includes those who described themselves as Asian or Asian British - Indian, Asian or Asian British - Pakistani, Asian or Asian British - Bangladeshi, or Asian or Asian British - Other2.

2Statistics can be broken down according to these sub-groups and those sub-groups outlined below.

  • "Black women" includes those who described themselves as Black or Black British - Caribbean, Black or Black British - African or Black or Black British - Other.
  • "Non-white" women include those from Mixed, Black, Asian, Chinese and Other populations.
  • "White" women includes those who described themselves as White - British, White - Irish, White - Other.

The Populus-BME poll [PDF 218Kb] is also available from the NHS Cancer Screening press office (0207 400 4499).

The NHS Cancer Screening Programmes have commissioned the Improvement Foundation to undertake a £250,000 national improvement programme to help primary care organisations address the general decline in the uptake of screening in the 25-34 age group. The Improvement Foundation will work with seven Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) to improve uptake in a 12-month programme in partnership with general practice, local public health teams and other service providers. The lessons learned from this work, due in 2010, will be shared with local screening programmes to develop best practice.

This survey follows on from research authored by Prof. Ala Szczepura at Warwick University looking into bowel and breast cancer screening uptake rates among members of the South Asian community. The results showed that members of the South Asian community were only half as likely to attend bowel cancer screening and 15 times less likely to attend breast cancer screening than members of the non South Asian community. The research was funded by the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes and was based on a survey of 400,000 people over the period 1989 to 2005. Prof. Szczepura is currently working on cervical cancer screening uptake rates, although this research has not yet been completed. For further information please visit this website

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