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South Asian women in UK hiding cancer due to stigma: Report

Press Trust of India  |  London 

Women from South Asian backgrounds are hiding their due to the stigma attached with the disease in their communities, according to a new research released today.

Experts fear a number of patients, including those of Indian-origin, are choosing to suffer in secret and avoid screenings which could help save their lives, the BBC study found.

"Some women went to the extent of not even having treatment because, if they went, people would know as they'd lose their hair,"said Pooja Saini, the lead researcher at CLAHRC North-West Coast, a research arm of the state-funded National Health Service (NHS) that looks into health inequalities in the country's medical system.

"Others feared it might affect their children because no-one would want to marry them," she said.

Saini added that her review suggests the influence of men in South Asian families and elders in the wider community may also be a contributing to the issue as the women would go only if they were given permission.

The study found that it was difficult to say how widespread the problem was because little information has been collected on ethnicity and mortality.

But in 2014, research from Bridgewater NHS found Asian women between 15 and 64 years old had a significantly reduced survival rate for breast for years, reflecting a wider issue.

Pravina Patel, who grew up in a strict British Indian community, told the BBC that when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she decided to hide it.

"I just thought if people hear the fact that I've got cancer, they're going to think it's a death sentence. I was going through chemo sessions on my own... I had some very dark days," said Patel, who is now in remission from the disease.

The UK's national screening statistics also show that people from ethnic minority communities do not go for screening as much as their white counterparts.

Madhu Agarwal, an Indian-origin cancer support manager who has worked in the field of cancer for more than 30 years, fears this is leading to South Asian women dying unnecessarily.

"Because of the ignorance of not presenting early, not examining the breasts... The disease has already spread (when they do seek help) and it's very difficult to manage it with treatment," she said.

"Then the mortality is high, so there is a stigma attached - that when you get cancer you're going to die."

Saini is now calling for more data on screening uptake by ethnicity to be recorded, so findings can be used to provide more tailored support to communities.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Tue, August 08 2017. 20:02 IST