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U of C survey: Chicago-area Muslim women shun repeat mammograms

Aasim Padela

Aasim Padela

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Updated: August 6, 2013 6:24AM

A new study shows a significant number of Muslim women in the Chicago area are shunning repeat mammograms, which could be jeopardizing their health given that breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among all U.S. women.

The University of Chicago study finds that while 77 percent of Muslim women responding to a survey reported getting a mammogram at least once in their lifetime, and 37 percent said they have not gone back for another in the past two years — despite health experts’ recommendations that they do so.

The study by Dr. Aasim Padela, assistant professor of medicine and director of the Initiative on Islam and Medicine, a project under the U of C’s Program on Medicine & Religion, also found that women who use so-called positive religious coping — those who say they rely on God and prayer for internal healing, were five times less likely to report having a mammogram in the past two years. Women who said they believed they are discriminated against as Muslims were 25 percent less likely.

The research is unique in that it looked specifically at Muslim women, including Arab-American, African-American and South-Asian women, Padela said. It included 240 Chicago-area women and revealed that race or ethnicity didn’t influence screening rates.

“Modesty concerns have been oft repeated in studies to influence preventive medicine, to influence screening in general or even going to the doctor with Muslim women,” Padela said. “I anticipated that women who rated themselves high on this modesty scale . . . would be less likely to get mammograms; not true in our sample.”

Padela also had anticipated that fatalistic notions held by some in the African-American community that cancer is a death sentence and disease God’s decree, would prompt some women to avoid mammograms, which proved not to be the case.

Phase 2 of the study will launch later this year and include a series of Muslim women focus groups. The goal is to learn what barriers to mammography screening persist and develop initiatives to combat them, Padela said.

Padela is partnering on the study with the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, which helped connect him to women at mosques and community sites. He also is working with Muslim women and family groups, including the Muslim Women Alliance, to access study participants.

“If women say, ‘We don’t have to get a mammogram because it’s not important; God decides when we have cancer,’ we need to work with the imams in the community to deliver messaging that taking care of your body or stewardship of your health is also part of religious obligation,” he said.

“If ideas of discrimination are influencing [women] getting back to have mammograms, we need to create intervention that targets that, that delivers cultural competency information to providers or targets women to help them be empowered and advocate for their needs within the health care environment.”

Beenish Manzoor, director of personal development at the Muslim Women Alliance, says she’s observed “a lot of times women of Muslim faith are a little bit hesitant to get screening . . . for the fear of the unknown.

“MWA believes in supporting projects that enrich women’s lives, including better health outcomes. Cancer in general is something that we need to be better aware of in terms of what the preventative measures are, what to do and how to go about it.”im

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