Published on 19 July 2023
A scheme to encourage Muslim women in Sunderland and the north-east to take up cancer screening invitations is to receive £337,485 from Cancer Research UK.
The three-year project, run jointly by the Universities of Sunderland and Glasgow, will reach out to women in Muslim communities with information to help them make informed choices.
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.
After positive feedback from participants the organisers now hope to reach hundreds of women in the north-east of England and Scotland.
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.
Co-lead, Dr Floor Christie-de Jong, Associate Professor in Public Health in the School of Medicine at of the University of Sunderland, said: “Socioeconomic and ethnic inequities in cancer persist, which need tackling.
“One size does not fit all and to allow women to make informed decisions about cancer screening we need to use targeted approaches.
“Working in partnership with the community and using assets from that community in a positive way, can help to tackle these inequities."
The project will run until December 2025 with the first phase providing workshops, the second administering surveys to assess changes in knowledge and attitudes towards screening, and the third to assess if uptake of screening opportunities has risen.
Workshops, both online and in-person, will include discussions on potential barriers to women taking up screening opportunities; health education sessions led by a healthcare practitioner, videos of Muslim women’s experiences of cancer or screening; and a religious perspective on cancer screening delivered by a female religious Muslim scholar, Alimah, Cerysh Sadiq.
Cerysh Sadiq, an Alimah and Research Assistant in the School of Medicine at the University of Sunderland, said: "Women can be uncertain as to how screening fits in with their faith, and it will be a great privilege to help guide women and assist with any religious concerns they may have about cervical, breast and bowel cancer screening."
There are three cancer screening programmes in England. Bowel cancer screening is available for everyone aged 60-74 in England, breast screening for all women aged 50-70, and cervical screening for women aged 25-64.
Dr Rawand Jarrar, Project Research Associate at the University of Sunderland, said:
“This new phase of the project takes what we’ve learned from the pilot and expands it across a wider geographical area, so we can reach more women and share knowledge about early screening.
“This project is ultimately about saving lives and early detection through screening, which in turn leads to better success of the cancer treatments available for these women. We are creating a path to early diagnosis and treatment.”
Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK Chief Executive, said: “Tackling inequalities is absolutely crucial to ensuring everyone, regardless of where they live or their ethnic background, has the best chance against cancer.
“We know people from ethnic minorities may be less likely to respond to cancer screening invitations and hopefully this project will encourage more people to take up such opportunities and to find out what barriers prevent them doing so,
“Removing these barriers could save lives by catching cancer early when treatment is most likely to be effective.”
The funding will also provide training for more women from Muslim communities to help deliver workshops.
It is hoped the results from the project will allow lessons learned to be transferred to other cancer screening (for example, male bowel screening), as well as to other ethnic minority groups.
Supporting workshop engagement is Fozia Haider, Research Assistant on the project, who has wide experience of working with women from a diverse range of ethnic groups. She said: “I am honoured to be part of this initiative as it aims to improve cancer screening rates among Muslim women by addressing the barriers to screening and engaging with marginalised communities.
“We have the opportunity to make a real impact with life-saving consequences. I look forward to working alongside women from all communities and using my real-life experience to support their empowerment and engagement."