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IWD 2024: Milestone for scheme improving cancer screening among Muslim women

Home / More / News / IWD 2024: Milestone for scheme improving cancer screening among Muslim women

Published on 07 March 2024

L-R: Fozia Haider, Dr Floor Christie-de Jong and Dr Rawand Jarrar
L-R: Fozia Haider, Dr Floor Christie-de Jong and Dr Rawand Jarrar

A scheme to encourage Muslim women in the north-east and Scotland to take up cancer screening has reached a significant milestone in its work to remove barriers and save thousands of lives.

IMCAN (Improving Muslim Women’s Uptake of Cancer Screening) is a three-year project, run jointly by the Universities of Sunderland and Glasgow, and is reaching out to women in Muslim communities with information to help them make informed choices about screening for breast, cervical and bowel cancers.

Figures show low uptake for cancer screening among women in the Muslim community, prompting the research team to launch a pilot in 2020 in Glasgow with the aim of increasing uptake of screening in Scotland.

The project has been running workshops with Muslim women aged 25 to 74, in the north-east, Scotland and online, with the aim of reaching 200 women and offering them a culturally appropriate way of making an informed choice about cancer screening.

In a significant step for the project, the team are now collecting data from the workshop to determine whether it is having maximum impact. They will also follow up with attendees after six months and again at 12 months, to investigate their knowledge and attitudes towards cancer screening, as well as their actual screening practices post-workshop.

Principal Investigator Dr Floor Christie-de Jong, Associate Professor in Public Health in the School of Medicine at of the University of Sunderland, said: “The data collection phase is particularly exciting and really enjoyable: delivering this workshop that we designed in partnership with Muslim women.

“In the next phase of the project we will start analysing the data to determine whether the workshop has an impact, however, on the ground we can see the women’s response to the workshop, which is overwhelmingly positive.

“So far, we have delivered three workshops in Glasgow, one workshop in Newcastle, one in South Shields and six online. In total, we are aiming to recruit 200 women and we are well over half of that target now.

“The women are positive about the workshop and find it informative and enjoyable. We have women walking out the door telling us they will take action, engage in cancer screening and tell their sisters, mothers and daughters.”

Dr Rawand Jarrar, Research Associate at the University of Sunderland, said: “IMCAN means ‘facilitating’ or ‘making possible’ in Arabic, which is what the aim of this project is. It is great to see the positive reactions from women at the workshops, especially as we are bringing health education and faith together in a way that facilitates cancer screening uptake”.

Cancer screening saves thousands of lives each year as it can detect cancers at an early stage when it is most treatable and, in some cases, even prevent cancers from developing in the first place.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day tomorrow (Friday 8 March), the project remains committed to tackling inequalities to ensure everyone, regardless of where they live or their ethnic background, has the best chance against cancer.

The project is funded for 2023 to 2025 by Cancer Research UK for £337,485.

Dr Christie-de Jong said: “Ultimately, we aim to tackle health inequalities and save lives by encouraging Muslim women to engage with breast, bowel and cervical cancer screening. In order to do this, we aim to apply for further funding after this study to test the effectiveness of the workshop in a fully randomised controlled trial.

“Early diagnosis of cancer saves lives. Our project offers information that is culturally appropriate for Muslim women and has been developed for Muslim women, by Muslim women. This will allow Muslim women to make an informed choice about cancer screening, and potentially has an impact on women’s lives.”

Cerysh Sadiq, Research Assistant in the School of Medicine at the University of Sunderland, said: "Many women still neglect regular screenings due to various reasons, including lack of awareness, fear, cultural barriers, or simply prioritizing other responsibilities.

“It has been a great privilege to be part of a project which empowers women to prioritise their health. Our message is clear: Your health matters, and early detection saves lives.

“Some Muslim women can be uncertain about how screening fits with their faith, so it has been great assisting women with any religious concerns they may have and guiding them."

Supporting workshop engagement is Fozia Haider, Research Assistant on the project.

She said:This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “Inspire Inclusion”. I am honoured to work with incredible women who inspire me, and this project epitomises inclusion in pragmatic research practice.  

“Traditionally, services expect the user to make the contact. Here, we are ‘taking the service’ to some of the most marginalised women in society who face discrimination and are disproportionately disadvantaged. Addressing health inequalities is at the forefront of public health research and the IMCAN Study will make a tangible difference and improve health outcomes.”