South Asians and other racialized groups face barriers to cancer screening

Lobb R, Pinto AD, Lofters A. Using concept mapping in the knowledge-to-action process to compare stakeholder opinions on barriers to use of cancer screening among South Asians. Implementation Science. 2013; 8: 37.

  Health providers encourage people to get screened at specific ages for three cancers that can be detected early – breast, cervical and colorectal cancer. Evidence suggests immigrants, people who are racialized*, people living on low incomes and people isolated by geography are under-screened for these cancers in Canada and the US. In Ontario, recent evidence suggests South Asians* might be particularly vulnerable to under-screening.

What we did: We asked South Asian residents, community agencies, health service organizations and health providers in Peel Region, Ontario, about barriers South Asians face when it comes to cancer screening.

Findings:  Based on what participants told us, health providers and other organizations can help improve screening rates for South Asians in Peel by providing:

–  Logistical supports like shorter wait times for appointments; interpretation services; transportation help (like 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 media outlets accessed by South Asian residents. They should include information about:

  • Cancer screening – when and how to get it, and that it’s free of cost;
  • Cancer risk factors, and the success of cancer treatment;
  • Using the health care system for prevention – before you get sick.

–  Cultural competency training emphasizing respect for South Asian cultures and traditional notions of health.

–  Primary care physicians who emphasize the need for screening, listen to concerns and answer questions; more female health providers and health providers and technicians from South Asian cultures and who speak South Asian languages.

* The term “racialized groups” is used to acknowledge “race” as a social construct and a way of describing a group of people. Racialization is the process through which groups come to be designated as different, and on that basis subjected to differential and unequal treatment. In the present context, racialized groups include those who may experience differential treatment on the basis of race, ethnicity, language, economics, religion. (Canadian Race Relations Foundation)

* South Asian communities are incredibly diverse on many levels. 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.

Contact: Rebecca Lobb (

This paper can be found in the Li Ka Shing database.