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Arabic cancer screening project fights stigma to make community healthier

Wednesday 17 August, 2016
A new unique program aims to improve the screening rates for breast, bowel and cervical cancers for Arabic people in the Hume area.

Hume’s ‘pink’ Mayor, Councillor Helen Patsikatheodorou received breast cancer treatment three years ago and knows the impact of the disease.

“I was lucky to have my breast cancer detected early, which meant that I had the best chance for treatment and survival,” Cr Patsikatheodorou said.

“I’m so proud to have a potentially life-saving program in the city of Hume. Screening for breast, bowel and cervical cancer is a no-brainer if you’re aged 50 and over,” she said.

People from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds diagnosed with cancer have poorer outcomes and poorer quality of life compared to others.

Local community champions are working closely with Cancer Council Victoria and Arabic Welfare Services to implement the program.

Community Development Worker from the Arabic Welfare Inc, Simar Amad, is also a breast cancer survivor and is working with Cancer Council Victoria on the project.

“There are many barriers to discussing cancer screening in the Arabic community, as cancer is very much connected to the idea of death in our culture, and illness is linked to fate. We are afraid to use the word ‘cancer’, so instead we describe it as ‘nasty disease’, which makes it hard to talk about,” said Ms Amad.

To work around this issue and to increase screening rates:
  • community champions will be trained to speak to community about cancer screening in a culturally-appropriate way
  • doctors will be encouraged to keep cancer screening top-of-mind for people aged 50 to 74 in the community 
  • advertising campaigns will remind people to screen 
  • a cartoon will be developed by an Arabic comedian to help reduce the stigma around the word ‘cancer’, as the use of comedy is an important tool in the community.

“If you’re aged 50 to 74, speak to your doctor or nurse about cancer screening,” Ms Amad said, “trust me, it could save your life.”

About the Arabic Cancer Screening Project: The Arabic Cancer Screening Project, funded by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services and implemented by Arabic Welfare Services, in partnership with Cancer Council Victoria, BreastScreen Victoria, PapScreen Victoria and the Victorian Cervical Cytology Registry.