Skip to main content

14 November 2019

Ethnic minority women face more barriers to seeing their GP

Women from ethnic minority backgrounds report around twice as many barriers than white women to seeking help for potential cancer symptoms, according to new research.


The study published in Psycho-Oncology found that, in England, women from ethnic minority backgrounds were more likely to feel too embarrassed to talk to a GP compared to white women.

The researchers, including Dr Laura Marlow from the School of Cancer & Pharmaceutical Sciences, surveyed 720 women from six different ethnic groups including white, Caribbean, African, Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi, to try and understand why women might delay seeking medical help.

In the Cancer Research UK-funded study, participants were asked to answer how strongly they agreed with statements designed to assess potential barriers to going to a GP if they had symptoms, as well as answering some additional questions on their health literacy level and fatalistic beliefs.

The researchers found that 75-91% of women from ethnic minority backgrounds were likely to feel embarrassed to talk to a GP compared to 8% of white women. They also discovered that ethnic minority women who had moved to the UK as adults were around 40 % less likely to report worrying about wasting a GP’s time as a potential barrier, than women from the same ethnic background born in the UK.

Our work showed that women from ethnic minority backgrounds can face more barriers to seeing the GP with potential cancer symptoms, but we also showed that there are differences in the types of barriers women face based on how long women have lived in the UK and how confident they feel communicating with their GP.

Dr Laura Marlow

Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK’s head of health and patient information, said: “The earlier stage cancer is diagnosed at, the better chance people have of surviving their disease. So, we urge people to tell their doctor if they notice any changes to their body that aren’t normal for them.”

“A better understanding of ethnic inequalities in delayed symptom presentation helps us determine how intervention strategies should look and who they are most needed for." Adds Dr Marlow.

In this story

Laura  Marlow

Senior Research Fellow