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Last Updated: Friday, 8 April, 2005, 22:59 GMT 23:59 UK
Cancer diagnosis hits Asians hard
Denial can lead to anxiety and depression
White patients cope better with the pressure of cancer than their British Asian counterparts, research suggests.

The University of Leicester looked at coping strategies among 200 white and British Asian patients.

The British Journal of Cancer study found the most common method of coping among Asian people was simply to deny they were ill.

White people were more likely not to dwell on their illness - a strategy linked to less anxiety and depression.

Asian patients seem to suffer greater psychological distress following a diagnosis of cancer
Dr Paul Symonds
About half of British Asians surveyed said they did not really believe that they had cancer - despite being told and agreeing to cancer treatment.

Less than a third of white patients said they felt the same way.

In both groups denial was linked to an increase in depression.

The study, based in Leicester, applied a rating system used in hospitals to find out how depressed or anxious patients were by looking at their answers to a standard questionnaire.

The results showed British Asian patients felt more helpless and were also likelier to be depressed and to feel that fate controlled events.

Best support

Researcher Dr Paul Symonds said: "Leicester has a large ethnic minority population.

"In order to provide optimal support for all patients we need to know how different ethnic groups cope with a diagnosis of cancer.

"Asian patients seem to suffer greater psychological distress following a diagnosis of cancer.

"We intend to conduct further studies in a larger group of patients to study whether Asians and white patients understand cancer in different ways."

Dr Symonds told the BBC News website he feared that Asian patients were more likely to view cancer as an automatic death sentence when in fact up to 50% of patients made a full recovery.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, a GP in Stanmore, Middlesex, and a senior member of the British Medical Association, said some people from ethnic minorities had an outdated impression of how effectively modern medicine could treat cancer.

"I am not surprised by these findings. Some patients from ethnic minorities come from nations where the health care system is not well developed, and where a diagnosis of cancer is often associated with a very poor prognosis."

Dr Nagpaul said it was important that counselling services were available to support people who were diagnosed with cancer.

He said it was not satisfactory for a hard-pressed GP to have to give such news in a 10-minute consultation.

Kate Law, head of clinical trials at Cancer Research UK, said: "In this study, the British Asian patients appear to have an unhealthy attitude to a cancer diagnosis, often leading to depression, whereas white patients seem to deal with it better and have a better outlook.

"This could be down to many factors, but if misunderstanding of cancer is one, then the NHS may need to focus on a targeted education campaign once this work has been further substantiated."

Dr Kiran Patel, of the South Asian Health Foundation, said the differences could be due to many factors.

"Notwithstanding that depression is more prevalent in Asians, when cancer is diagnosed, factors such as the social stigma associated with a diagnosis, the religious and cultural beliefs of this group such as accepting one┐s fate or destiny (┐kismet┐) may play a role."

Dr Patel also said that doctors may not be attuned to dealing with depression in Asian people.


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