Stigma in villages a barrier to cancer diagnosis

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WINDHOEK – The CEO of the Cancer Association of Namibia (CAN) Rolf Hansen says much needs to be done to break the stigma on cancer, particularly in rural areas where it is taboo to speak about the disease. 

Speaking at a media briefing yesterday, Hansen said experience from the outreach programmes in rural areas shows “the stigma is so big and in villages people do not speak about the disease,” particularly among the elderly. 
It is equally difficult for women to seek services to detect the disease early because it is taboo to speak about the condition, said Hansen. 

“Age can largely influence someone’s ability to understand and communicate their early symptoms of cancer, making children particularly vulnerable,” said Hansen.  Masculine gender norms combined with a broader lack of men’s health promotion can prevent help-seeking behaviour even when men might suspect cancer early on, said Hansen. 
“The strongest factor associated with men’s help-seeking behaviour has been shown to be the encouragement and support of spouses and family members.”

Furthermore, socio-economic status can also present barriers to early help-seeking, stated Hansen. 
He cited a Danish study that found a strong association between a lower level of education and fear of what a doctor might find. And on the flip side, individuals with a higher socio-economic status, namely higher education, employed and with a higher income, anticipated being too busy to seek medical help. 

“Feelings of shame and fear combined with poor health awareness and cultural beliefs can also keep an individual from utilising medical care or screening programmes,” said Hansen.  Hansen stressed the importance of early diagnosis of cancer, saying it can reduce the cost of treatment. 

“Studies in high-income countries show that treatment costs for early-diagnosed cancer patients are two to four times less expensive than treating those diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer,” said Hansen. 
Namibia will on Monday join the world in commemorating ‘World Cancer’ day with global experts calling for action on early detection to significantly improve patient survival.