The importance of cross-cultural cancer communications

The Cancer Council Victoria explains why knowledge is power.

The word ‘cancer’ can be scary – even more so in some communities where the topic is regarded as taboo.

But did you know that one third of cancers are preventable? Some of the lifestyle changes that can help reduce your risk include quitting smoking, limiting alcohol, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, and being sun smart.

Along with these steps, screening for bowel, breast and cervical cancers is an important way to prevent cancer, or improve your chances of successful treatment, by picking it up early.

Yet not everyone takes up the opportunities to screen. For instance, only around a third of Australians eligible to do a free, at-home test for signs of bowel cancer actually do it.

Culturally and linguistically diverse communities experience poorer cancer outcomes like late diagnosis, partly because screening rates in some of these communities are low.

“We learned that because Vietnam and India do not have cervical screening programs, many newly-arrived women did not know about the benefits of early detection and the availability of screening programs in Australia.”

This is very understandable. Imagine navigating our health system when you have poor English skills, or come from a country that doesn’t have population wide screening programs like those in Australia. To improve the health of all Australian communities, we need better communication of health messages.

Overcoming the barriers

In a recent campaign to reach Vietnamese and Indian women residing in Victoria, PapScreen Victoria approached the community from multiple angles to raise awareness that all women need cervical screening every two years if they have ever been sexually active.

We interviewed Vietnamese and Indian women to find out what knowledge they had around cervical cancer. We learned that because Vietnam and India do not have cervical screening programs, many newly-arrived women did not know about the benefits of early detection and the availability of screening programs in Australia.

To overcome these barriers, PapScreen Victoria filmed informative videos about cervical screening using Vietnamese and Indian women and GPs from Victoria. It was important to tailor our messages and approach to each audience, so the videos acknowledged the communities’ language needs, knowledge and cultural barriers.

We also aimed to reduce the stigma around cervical screening by setting the facts straight.

As a result of crafting messages using the support of these communities, the campaign reached over 1 million Vietnamese and Indian women residing in Victoria. We also know that women who were previously unaware that they needed a Pap test were visiting their GPs to ask for the test.

“But no matter how many fact sheets or videos are made, overcoming stigma is the trickiest challenge.”

We also know that word-of-mouth made a big difference, with many women sharing our videos on Facebook, using the videos as an ice-breaker to talk about the importance of a Pap test.

But no matter how many fact sheets or videos are made, overcoming stigma is the trickiest challenge.

So if you have a positive cancer screening experience, let your friends and family know. It could mean all the difference to someone you love.

How can you help someone you know to access cancer information?

• Communicating appointment details via Cancer Council’s  multilingual printable appointment card.
• Sharing fact sheets in your language.
• For information and support in your preferred language call 13 14 50 (TIS) and ask to speak to Cancer Council with the help of an interpreter. This is available to anyone affected by cancer, their families and friends, as well as health professionals, for the cost of a local call (except from mobiles).

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