June 10, 2011
More positive stories about cancer treatment and recovery were important to improve cancer outcomes for Aboriginal people in WA, according to a new report.
The report, funded by Cancer Council Western Australia and the National Health and Medical research Council (NHMRC), looked at beliefs about cancer and the ways these affected how people sought medical care, their experiences of the health system and of communicating with doctors and health professionals.
One of the authors of the report, Winthrop Professor Sandra Thompson, director of the Combined Universities Centre for Rural Health, University of Western Australia, said the health system needed to be more inclusive and aware of the specific needs of Aboriginal people.
“People interviewed for the study reported good and bad experiences of cancer services, which is probably the same for the wider community. However, Aboriginal people struggled with the hospital environment and especially with travelling and being in the city,” Professor Thompson said.
“Both travel and accommodation were major issues, but being away from family and country left people homesick and worried. Having Aboriginal people working in the hospital and providing support was important. When they are scared of dying, Aboriginal people like to have all their family near them.”
Aboriginal people with cancer they are more likely to die from the disease than non-Aboriginal people because their cancer is often more advanced when found, they are less likely to accept and receive adequate treatment and Aboriginal people get more serious cancers (such as lung and liver), which are more likely to be fatal.
Professor Thompson said better community education about finding cancer early and seeking treatment was needed.
“We know that finding cancer early and getting adequate treatment are the keys to better outcomes. Aboriginal people may have different beliefs about what causes cancer and this needs to be considered in early detection messages and in providing treatment for Aboriginal people with cancer.
“For Aboriginal people to share equally in the benefits in treatments that have occurred over the last 30 years, better linkages between cancer treatment centres in the metropolitan areas and that patient’s local health service back home would make a lot of difference.”
Cancer Council WA Director Education and Research, Terry Slevin said there was no single solution to the problem of high death rates from cancer among Aboriginal people.
“This report shows us why Aboriginal people feel the way they do about seeking treatment for cancer and highlights some solutions to this problem,” Mr Slevin said.
“As a start, we need to work on improved prevention and early detection for Aboriginal people. We need to challenge the notion that is still prevalent in the Aboriginal community, that a diagnosis of cancer is a death sentence.
“Also, all cancer treatment facilities need to make and extra effort to make their services inclusive in practical ways and in terms of ensuring Aboriginal people feel welcomed and cared for. We need to ensure that resources are focussed on the barriers that exist to Aboriginal people seeking diagnosis and treatment for cancer.”
Mr Slevin commended the team on its report.
“This report provides and important foundation to start improving outcomes for Aboriginal people with cancer in WA.”
Read the full report.