In a pilot study that was published in the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health on Oct. 7, Dr. Aisha Lofters and the team from St. Michael's Hospital in Canada analyzed the possible correlation between people being screened for cancer and their religious beliefs. The study examined possible inequalities in cancer screening among Muslims.
The study was conducted to see how religious beliefs play a role in encouraging people to go through cancer screenings, given the increasing number of Muslim immigrants in the country. Previous studies published by Lofters and colleagues looked into cancer screening rates among women minorities. They found that when it comes to cervical cancer, women from the Middle East and South Asia are the least likely to go through the screening process, while for breast cancer, South Asian women are the least likely to get themselves checked.
A common ground between the South Asian and the Middle Eastern women is the practice of Islam, so the study started from the premise that religion could play an important role when it comes to screening for other cancerous cells, as well.
"In Canada we tend not to collect variables like race and religion, but one of the issues with not collecting it is we're not able to identify where there are gaps, concerns, or disparities," explained Lofters, family physician at the St. Michael's Academic Family Health and lead author of the study.
The researcher also mentioned that the possibility of associating personal beliefs and behaviors, such as the religious ones, to health procedures could be of significant help when it comes to improving the quality of the health care services they provide.
The method used by the pilot research was voluntary survey, along with retrospective reviews of the screening histories of more than 5,000 patients of the hospital's care practice.
However, even if previous studies showed lower screening rates in immigrant women, this pilot study brings another facet to the issue. As it turns out, Muslim women had a 85.2 percent screening rate, other religious women registered 77.5 percent and the ones without any declared religious beliefs had the lowest screening rate - 69.5 percent.
The study is even more impressive, since Muslim immigrant women statistically have a lower income and live in less developed neighborhoods, which would normally constitute a barrier when it comes to consulting the health care system properly.
"We don't know why that is. Is there something about having a religious belief that makes you maybe more conscientious about your health?" Lofters said.
Lofters stressed on the relevance of religion as a factor that shapes behaviors, and not just when it comes to the health care system. She also believes that this entire paradigmatic view based on religion constitutes an area worth exploring.
At the same time, the screening procedure for some types of cancers comes with an associated risk. When it comes to breast cancer, mammograms come with risks, especially when the breast tissues are denser than the patients' age average.