Cancer screening behaviours, sexuality, and acculturation: decreasing disparities in Chinese Canadian women

The Chinese are one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in Canada, comprising about four per cent of the population in 2001. Research has consistently found that compared to individuals of European descent, people of Chinese descent have much lower rates of health-seeking behaviours (actions taken in order to maintain or improve health). For example, Chinese women in BC have twice the risk of cervical cancer compared to Euro-Canadian women, mainly because of poor screening behaviours. Culture is believed to be an important factor contributing to low Pap testing rates among Chinese women. By Western standards, traditional Chinese sexual attitudes and behaviours are conservative: sexual activity is strongly discouraged before marriage and it is taboo to talk about sex openly. One way to study culture is to consider what happens when individuals move to a new country and encounter a new culture. Acculturation is the process whereby values of the new culture (Mainstream culture) are incorporated into one’s self-identity and culture of origin (Heritage culture). Recently, a pilot test was conducted among university students investigating the role of acculturation in the relationship between sexuality-related beliefs and behaviours and Pap testing. Among the Chinese women, high Mainstream acculturation was significantly related to more accurate sexual knowledge and better sexual response, and high Heritage acculturation was significantly related to less Pap testing behaviour. Jane Woo is building on the pilot study to further explore these relationships. Following validation that the findings among university students can be extended to women in the general population, she will conduct focus groups to understand women’s experiences related to their sexuality and reproductive health behaviours. A greater understanding of the factors that affect health-seeking behaviours among Chinese women will contribute to the development of more equitable, culturally-sensitive health care services to all Canadians.