Media Releases

Toronto’s first peer cancer education program for black women improves awareness and screening

February 22, 2016

Toron­to, ON — Pub­lic health researchers cre­at­ed a first-of-its-kind peer edu­ca­tion project tar­get­ing black women to improve breast and cer­vi­cal can­cer aware­ness and screen­ing for black women liv­ing in Toronto’s Malvern com­mu­ni­ty.

“There is a lot of silence in the black com­mu­ni­ty. Peo­ple think that can­cer is not a black issue and many sur­vivors are shy to speak out,” said Dr. Onye Nnorom, who leads the Health Equi­ty Research Col­lab­o­ra­tive (HERC), a group of Toron­to-based researchers who are inter­est­ed in health dis­par­i­ties and com­mu­ni­ty-based solu­tions.

“The goal of this project is to reach out to women and break the silence by pro­mot­ing pre­ven­tion and screen­ing,” said Nnorom, who is also Asso­ciate Pro­gram Direc­tor of the Dal­la Lana School of Pub­lic Health’s Pub­lic Health and Pre­ven­tive Med­i­cine Res­i­den­cy Pro­gram.

The project is known as Ko-Pamo­ja, which means “learn­ing togeth­er.” It is Toronto’s first part­ner­ship of com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers and aca­d­e­mics to design a breast and cer­vi­cal can­cer peer edu­ca­tion pro­gram with an Afro­cen­tric lens. This pilot project took place from fall 2015 to Jan­u­ary 2016 and trained two com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers to lead five edu­ca­tion­al ses­sions at TAIBU Com­mu­ni­ty Health Cen­tre, locat­ed in Malvern, Toron­to.

The Cana­di­an Can­cer Reg­istry does not col­lect infor­ma­tion on race or eth­nic­i­ty, but accord­ing to the Amer­i­can Can­cer Soci­ety, African Amer­i­can women have a 41 per cent high­er breast can­cer death rate, and are near­ly twice as like­ly to die from cer­vi­cal can­cer as white women. Cana­di­an research indi­cates that immi­grant women, includ­ing black women, are less like­ly to get their mam­mo­grams or pap tests and often go to the doc­tor lat­er on, when a can­cer has pro­gressed and is hard­er to treat.

This was the case for Leila Springer, a breast can­cer sur­vivor and Ko-Pamo­ja col­lab­o­ra­tor who was diag­nosed with an aggres­sive form of the dis­ease in 1999.

“My entire life changed after the diag­no­sis. I real­ized that life is short. Now I talk about the impor­tance of a mam­mo­gram,” said Springer who, fol­low­ing her treat­ment, received reg­u­lar mam­mo­grams and avoid­ed a sec­ond can­cer diag­no­sis.

“Had I not done a [sec­ond] mam­mo­gram, my out­come could have been very dif­fer­ent,” said Springer, founder of the Olive Branch of Hope, an orga­ni­za­tion that pro­vides sup­port for women who have been diag­nosed with can­cer.

Upon pro­gram eval­u­a­tion, Dr. Nnorom and the research team, includ­ing Dr. Aisha Lofters, assis­tant pro­fes­sor in the Depart­ment of Fam­i­ly and Com­mu­ni­ty Med­i­cine and fam­i­ly physi­cian at St. Michael’s Hos­pi­tal, and Nakia Lee-Foon, a PhD stu­dent in Social and Behav­iour­al Health Sci­ences at the Dal­la Lana School of Pub­lic Health, found a gen­er­al increase in aware­ness of risk fac­tors for breast can­cer and cer­vi­cal can­cer and ben­e­fits of screen­ing and ear­ly detec­tion. Most par­tic­i­pants report­ed they planned to get screened post-edu­ca­tion.

“We need more com­mu­ni­ty-focused research and edu­ca­tion for black women to improve can­cer screen­ing and out­comes,” said Nnorom, who is the pri­ma­ry care lead of the Cen­tral East Region­al Can­cer Pro­gram.

“In fact, we need more cul­tur­al­ly-spe­cif­ic can­cer pre­ven­tion pro­grams and research to address the needs of the diverse com­mu­ni­ties in Ontario,” said Nnorom.

Ko-Pamo­ja was fund­ed by a com­mu­ni­ty research grant from Women’s Col­lege Hos­pi­tal.

Click here to read the full com­mu­ni­ty and tech­ni­cal reports.


Media con­tact:

Nicole Bod­nar
Direc­tor of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions
Dal­la Lana School of Pub­lic Health
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Tel:  416–946-7521