Immigrant women in B.C. get screened for breast cancer at much lower rates than the general population, a new study suggests.
The study, led by BC Cancer and released earlier this month, was conducted by linking federal immigration information with provincial health data for more than 530,000 women, and suggests immigrant women from all countries studied except for Iran, the U.K. and the U.S. went for mammograms less than non-immigrant women.
“The former U.S.S.R. [countries] had a very low participation rate. Eastern Europe was one of the lower world regions as a whole,” said Ryan Woods, lead author of the study and scientific director for the provincial cancer registry at BC Cancer.
“All of them were screening down into the 30-per-cent participation rates, quite a bit lower in the 51 per cent among non-immigrants.”
Woods said the study also identified Indian women as having screening rates of six per cent below that of non-immigrants.
Although the researchers did not speak with women to find out why they weren’t going for health screenings, Woods said one factor seemed to be whether they had gone to a primary care physician in the months and years leading up to the study. A primary care provider could be anything from a family doctor to a walk-in clinic.
“The women in more frequent contact with a primary care provider have better screenings rates,” he said. “That was the single greatest variable.”
Woods pointed to woman from China and South Korea, who, when they did not visit a doctor, had screening rates of just five or six per cent.
However, women who had visited a doctor at least 10 times in the years leading up to the study had screening rates of 60-65 per cent.
The researchers are planning followup studies to see what kind of health care access is most effective, including the team-based care proposed by the province.
Teaching women that getting mammograms even when they feel healthy is important is key, and the effect is lasting, Woods said.
Immigrant women who got screened once were as likely as non-immigrant women to come back for another mammogram.
“Re-screening is in the 70 per cent rage all around,” said Woods. “Once they’re in the program you at least have them in the system, and you can try to keep them getting screened.”