Ethnic minority women choosing prayer over booking GP appointment

Tue 12 Nov 2019
By Tola Mbakwe

A new study exploring why ethnic minority women won’t see a GP for potential cancer symptom has found some would rather pray about the issue.

Researchers at the University of Surrey and King's College London surveyed 720 women from six different ethnic groups in England - white, Caribbean, African, Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi.

They wanted to understand why certain women might delay seeking medical help, and asked participants how strongly they agreed with 11 statements designed to assess potential barriers.


Some 30 per cent of the women (except Bangladeshi) said they would pray about a symptom compared with 10 per cent of white women.

Christian cancer survivor Marie Chery, who's black, told Premier she can relate. She eventually went to see a doctor after her daughter consistently encouraged her to do so toward the end of December 2014.

“I think it was like outside pressure more than anything else because I think, left to me,  I probably would have kept going and just only depended on my prayer but the symptoms were getting worse.”

After having treatment and a mastectomy she was declared cancer free in September 2015.

She told Premier one reason why minority women may choose prayer over the doctor is due to a lack of openness about cancer in their culture.

“Women in some backgrounds, especially the West Indian and African, cancer is something that, until recently, was something that you just never spoke about.

"So you would have a lot of women praying about it and you may hear that someone's had some procedures, but you would never know what it was for. They may ask for prayers but they might not tell you what's going on.”

Andrew Pariftt leads Maidstone Christian Cancer Support Group in Kent and is a 6-year cancer survivor.

He told Premier prayer is important but going to the GP is absolutely vital.

"I would never say that you have to go only on prayer. You need to know what the situation is anyway, then you know what you're praying about. If you go to the doctor, you might still have symptoms, or it might prove that the symptoms are nothing significant. 

“I was brought up in a Pentecostal church, so I was aware of very much of the extreme side of things where people said ‘it's almost to sin to go to the doctor. You’ve got to trust God all the way through’. But I think we all just think we ought to be more realistic these days.

"And we all know people who have taken the extreme line and then they've died. I mean, we had a lady in our group who was very, very confident, absolutely confident that God healed her, and she died."

The research also found between 75 per cent and 91 per cent of ethnic minority women were too embarrassed to talk to their family doctor, compared with just 8 per cent of white women,

Being too scared of what the symptom could indicate and a poor understanding of what the GP is saying are also potential barriers to treatment, according to the Cancer Research UK-funded study.

Listen to the interview with Marie Chery here:

Listen to the interview with Andrew Parfitt here:

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