Giving Compass’ Take:
• Research from the Wellesley Institute shows that immigrants and racialized women are less likely than white Canadians to get breast cancer screenings, which improve survival rates.
• How can philanthropy help to close this gap? What groups are in the greatest need of intervention?
Breast cancer poses a very important public health issue globally, as it is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women. In Canada, about 1 in 9 women is expected to develop breast cancer during her lifetime, and the chance of dying from it is 1 in 28.
Early diagnosis and treatment are the most important public health strategies in the control of breast cancer. Deaths due to breast cancer have reduced significantly in the past two decades in Ontario, and across Canada. Advancements in early diagnosis (through screening) and improved systemic treatments for breast cancer mean that a large proportion (87%) of women who develop breast cancer in Ontario survive.
Despite these achievements, significant challenges remain unaddressed. Inadequate and inequitable access to screening services is a substantial problem faced by some women. Research shows that immigrants and racialized women are particularly at a disadvantage, as they often face significant barriers in accessing preventive care. Because of this, racialized women and immigrants have some of the lowest utilization of screening services in Canada. This means that among these women who do develop breast cancer, there is a higher likelihood for it to be more serious and detected at an advanced stage which reduces their chance of survival.
Inequalities across the breast cancer continuum due to racialization have significantly affected women’s access to screening programs, diagnosis, treatment and survival. To ensure there is equitable access to quality care there needs to be a better understanding of broader systemic issues. Despite the existence of breast cancer prevention strategies across Canada, inequitable access to screening has barred many women from receiving adequate medical attention. More than half of recent immigrants (those who have been in Canada for less than 10 years) who are eligible for screening did not utilize the program in the previous two years compared to 26 percent of Canadian-born women.