Culture, attitude and knowledge about breast cancer and preventive measures: a qualitative study of South Asian breast cancer patients in the UK

Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2011;12(6):1619-26.


Background: Little is known about the influence of culture and beliefs about breast cancer, and its implications on preventive health behaviour among South Asian people in the UK.

Methods: Using a qualitative approach, 24 South Asian breast cancer patients and their significant others were interviewed.

Results: Most patients were unfamiliar with the subject of cancer; they expressed lack of knowledge of cancer as a disease and its symptoms. They identified a painless lump in the breast as sign of abnormality, but not cancer. They also did not know any non-lump breast symptoms. Over half participated in breast screening after encouragement from daughters or relatives. Most did not practise breast self-examination. Perceptions of cancer and health behaviour were influenced by cultural beliefs. Common themes were cancer is a taboo subject and cancer is a stigma. Patients also expressed misunderstandings about the cause of cancer. Cancer in the family had ramifications on children' s marriage prospects and may cause marital breakdown. Terminology used also caused communication problems with healthcare professionals and within the family: the use of ' chest' to substitute ' breast' changed the meaning of the message conveyed.

Conclusions: Cultural beliefs and practices accentuate difficulties in understanding breast cancer, breast screening and breast self-examination, and can prevent South Asian women from adopting preventive health practices.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Asian People / ethnology
  • Attitude to Health / ethnology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Breast Neoplasms, Male / diagnosis
  • Breast Self-Examination
  • Cultural Characteristics
  • Delayed Diagnosis*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice / ethnology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / methods
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Survival Rate
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology