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Research - Cancer Screening "Let's Talk About It" (2012-13)

Tower Hamlets Primary Care Trust commissioned WHFS (Women's Health & Family Services) to conduct this research to gain a deeper understanding of community perspectives on the barriers that people face in accessing cancer screening services in Tower Hamlets, and to identify the solutions that local communities see as having the potential to overcome these.

Why the project is important

Tower Hamlets has a higher incidence of cancer and amongst the worst cancer mortality and survival rates in the country, and cancer is the leading cause of premature death in the borough.

Early detection of cancer (for example, via screening) improves survival rates. There are screening programmes in Tower Hamlets for breast, cervical and bowel cancer, yet uptake of cancer screening remains below national targets and, for bowel cancer, screening uptake is the lowest in London.

Research methodology and dates

WHFS used an innovative qualitative research method called Participatory Appraisal (PA).

WHFS worked in partnership with Shortwork, and recruited 30 local women and men and provided them with PA training (accredited through the Open College Network at Level 2).  These volunteers used PA to access more than 400 people’s views in community settings throughout Tower Hamlets from October 2012 to March 2013

Key findings

Barriers identified to accessing cancer screening included:
  • Lack of awareness of screening services, or the need for testing
  • Poor or unsatisfactory relationship with health professionals
  • Fear (of the screening process, and of receiving the test results)
  • Language barriers
  • Embarrassment
  • Specific cultural issues, such as the stigma and taboo associated with cancer, especially in BME (black and minority ethnic) communities, and ignorance or misinformation about the causes of disease.
Solutions identified by participants included actions to:
  • Improve awarenessof cancer screening (including addressing language and literacy barriers).
  • Motivate and engage people to take up screening, overcome fear and embarrassment, and to dispel cultural myths and misinformation about cancer.  For example, by training local people to be ‘community hubs’ of accurate information who ‘talk about’ cancer and screening services within their communities.
  • Build good relationships between eligible residents and health professionals.
Actions taken
  • As a result of this research, WHFS was able to submit an informed funding bid and was commissioned by Tower Hamlets’ Public Health Team in 2014 to recruit, train and support 15 local volunteers to act as Cancer Awareness Peer Supporters to work as advocates within local communities, sharing their knowledge on cancer (including risk factors and symptoms) and the benefits and availability of cancer screening services.

Read the full Report

For further details, please read the full Cancer Screening in Tower Hamlets research report.