Quebec's breast cancer screening program: the perspective of workers in ethnocultural communities

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As community workers involved in Quebec's breast cancer screening program, we would like to relate a few observations and comments that we had on the new program.

In our information workshops organized for women from ethnocultural communities, we have met women of many different origins. When we ask these women about screening, we find that the practice of breast self-examination and clinical examinations by physicians are rare.

Awareness of Quebec's breast cancer screening program (Programme québécois de dépistage du cancer du sein or PQDCS) is equally poor in these communities. When women find out about the program, however, they show a great deal of interest and willingness to participate in it. They even find the wait of two years between mammograms too long. In addition, receiving the mammogram results at home is seen as a very positive part of the program.

In the workshops, we have also met a number of women under 40 who have a sister or mother who either died from breast cancer or have it now. Our workshops appear to have made these women even more anxious: now, not only do they have to worry about their mothers or sisters in the old country, but they also found out that they, too, are at risk of developing breast cancer but are not old enough to be eligible for the screening program.

These women face enormous difficulties when they do not speak the language or are not familiar with our health system. Fortunately, for many, community ethnocultural centres appear to be an ideal place to escape their isolation. Here, women who have a close relative afflicted with the disease often find enormous comfort from other women in their community.

The main concern of the Alliance des communautés culturelles pour l'égalité dans la santé et les services sociaux (ACCÉSSS), an umbrella group of organizations that works to ensure accessibility to health and social services for cultural communities, is the well-being of these women who are all the more vulnerable because they are immigrants. ACCÉSSS's work in partnership with other institutions under the PQDCS has resulted in the development of a number of tools adapted to the experiences and needs of these women, both in terms of content and translation into other languages. Our experience has shown, however, that there is still a great deal to be accomplished.

Therefore, we believe it is crucial that the different partners involved in this area develop ways of cooperating. In particular, community workers must be made more aware of the realities of women in ethnocultural communities and multicultural training must be promoted in teaching establishments and institutions in the health and social services system. Work to popularize and adapt information on breast cancer screening methods for women from ethnocultural communities must also be continued, and the use of cultural interpreters in network institutions must be promoted.

ACCÉSSS hopes that the Department of Health and Social Services will increase its efforts to promote awareness of the Quebec Breast Cancer Screening Program and that this information will be made available to women from the cultural communities.


Karina Hallouche and Nancy William Alliance des communautés culturelles pour l'égalité dans la santé et les services sociaux (ACCÉSSS)