Doctors Fight to Beat Cultural Cancer Taboos

Stigma surrounding cancer suspected of causing higher mortality rates
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 4, 2008 10:33 AM CDT
Cancer patient Eileen Mulligan, 68, holds her daily dose of chemotherapy pills on Thursday, June 12, 2008 at her home in Washington.    (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)
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(Newser) – The fight against cancer is being hindered by the stigma the illness carries in many cultures, the Wall Street Journal reports. Chinese, Russians, Muslims, and many other groups may shun treatment and try to keep their condition secret. Experts believe the taboo plays a big role in the higher cancer mortality rates in some communities and are working to boost doctors' cultural awareness.

Doctors sometimes avoid using the word "cancer" with patients from certain cultures, and consult with family members and religious leaders if necessary. Problems often arise when families seek to shield their loved ones from the severity of their diagnosis. "In many traditional cultures, crucial decisions are made by the patients' family," an oncologist at a Brooklyn hospital said.  "We treat people from all over the world. Is there a conflict? Yeah there is a conflict."