A scheme to encourage Muslim women in Glasgow to take up cancer screening is set to expand.

The three-year project, run jointly by the Universities of Glasgow and Sunderland with £337,000 worth of funding from Cancer Research UK, aims to reach women in Muslim communities with information to help them make informed choices.

Uptake of routine cancer checks such as smear tests and mammograms is lower among women in the Muslim community compared to the general population. 

The disparity prompted the researchers to launch a pilot in 2020 with the aim of increasing screening attendance in Scotland.

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The team identified several reasons for lower uptake which included not knowing about the screening, feeling shy, or being worried about seeing a male doctor.

After positive feedback from pilot participants, the organisers now hope to reach hundreds more women in Glasgow and the North East of England.

Co-lead Professor Katie Robb, Professor of Behavioural Science and Health, at the School of Health and Wellbeing at the University of Glasgow, said: “We ran a pilot scheme with a small number of women in 2020 which was well received by those who took part.

“This funding will allow us to expand the scheme so we can reach more women and share knowledge about early screening.

“Our aim is to empower women in Muslim communities with the knowledge they need as screening can be crucial to detecting cancer early when it is most treatable with the best chance of a successful outcome.”

The project, which was designed with Muslim women in Scotland, will run until December 2025.

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The first phase will involve workshops run both online and in-person to discuss potential barriers to women taking up screening opportunities, as well as expert-led health education sessions and videos of Muslim women's experiences of cancer or screening. 

A religious perspective on cancer screening will also be delivered by a Cerysh Sadiq, a research assistant in the school of medicine who is also an Alimah - a female religious Muslim scholar.

The second phase will see the researchers carrying out surveys to evaluate whether knowledge and attitudes about screening are changing, followed by a third and final stage where they will assess whether screening uptake has increased.

It is hoped the results from the project will allow lessons learned to be transferred to other cancer screening - for example, male bowel screening - as well as to other ethnic minority groups.

Ms Sadiq, from the University of Sunderland, said: "Women can be uncertain as to how screening fits in with their faith, and it will be a great privilege to help guide women and assist with any religious concerns they may have about cervical, breast and bowel cancer screening."

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There are three cancer screening programmes in Scotland.

Bowel cancer screening is available for everyone aged 50-74 in Scotland every two years; breast screening for all women aged 50-70; and cervical screening for women aged 25-64.

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Screening enables cancers to be detected at an early stage when they most treatable, and potentially curable. 

In some cases it can also prevent cancers from developing in the first place.

Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK chief executive, said: “Tackling inequalities is absolutely crucial to ensuring everyone, regardless of where they live or their ethnic background, has the best chance against cancer.

“We know people from ethnic minorities may be less likely to respond to cancer screening invitations and hopefully this project will encourage more people to take up such opportunities, and to find out what barriers prevent them doing so.

“Removing these barriers could save lives by catching cancer early when treatment is most likely to be effective.”