Muslim women in US more likely to get mammograms after religion-tailored classes

A recent study showed more Muslim-American women are likely to get mammograms, provided they engage in religiously-tailored educational programs designed to address barriers to screening. Previous research has shown roughly half of Muslim women in the United States receive mammograms, compared to 67 percent of all women.

“Routine mammograms have significantly reduce mortality from breast cancer, but we know that some religious and cultural beliefs discourage Muslim-American women from getting mammograms,” said the study’s lead author, Aasim Padela, MD, MSc, director of the Initiative on Islam and Medicine and an associate investigator of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Chicago. “We wanted to see if we could engage these women within the framework of their faith to encourage them to obtain mammograms.”

In the first phase of the study, the researchers conducted interviews and focus groups with Muslim women of screening age. The researchers noted “barrier beliefs” that prevented Muslim women from getting their mammograms, including screening not being beneficial because “God controls diseases and cures" and modesty-related concerns such as exposing their bodies.

In a second phase, curriculum was designed for two intervention-based, peer-led health education classes to be taught at Chicago-area mosques. Peer educators were instructed on how to approach the barrier beliefs using interventions that considered religious ideas, while stressing the importance of mammography screening.

Participants were surveyed before the classes, and then immediately, six months and one year after the classes.

After six months, 20 of the 47 participants (42 percent) had obtained a mammogram. The participants reported being significantly more likely to get a mammogram than before the intervention-based classes.

“It’s a challenge to frame healthy behaviors within the context of religious beliefs and cultural values,” Padela said. “But we believe that by engaging with such deeply held aspects of identity, we can meet people where they are and encourage them to uphold their beliefs in a way that also benefits their health.”