Enabling Access to Cancer Screening for Black Women

July 28, 2023

The cancer screening event was a collaborative effort across the hospital and with community partners, with more than 40 team members coming together to support in a variety of roles.

This month, more than 50 women visited Women’s College Hospital (WCH) to participate in the Breast & Cervical Cancer Screening for Black Women event. This is the second time the hospital and its community partners have hosted the one-day event, which engages an Afrocentric and community-based approach to create a safe and welcoming space for Black women and other equity deserving groups in the Greater Toronto Area to get screened for breast and cervical cancer.

“Historically, some Black women in Canada have been under screened for breast and cervical cancers for reasons including barriers to access, fear and discomfort related to inadequate representation among healthcare providers or a lack of culturally appropriate models of care,” explains Dr. Aisha Lofters, Chair in Implementation Science and Medical Director at the Peter Gilgan Centre for Women’s Cancers. “Through the screening event, our goal is to create an equitable and culturally safe space that allowed for Black women to be the focus of their own healthcare.”

In addition to cancer screening and follow-up care, the event featured mindfulness sessions and other activities to create a culturally safe and welcoming space.

Organized by the Peter Gilgan Centre for Women’s Cancers at WCH, in partnership with TAIBU Community Health Centre, Women’s Health in Women’s Hands Community Health Centre and The Olive Branch of Hope, the event included mindfulness sessions, onsite social work support, culturally relevant food, giveaway items and the opportunity for women to speak directly with clinicians.

“My experience was great – I wasn’t expecting all this,” says Paula, a participant who learned of the event through her family physician. “It’s significant that it is specifically for Black women – our skin tone is different, things present differently on a light or dark skin tone. It’s nice to be taken care of and to be seen.”

Paula, a participant in the cancer screening event.

The first cancer screening event for Black women was held in November 2022 and met with overwhelmingly positive feedback from participants, which the team continued to build upon.

“This year’s screening event incorporated key learnings to enhance the experience, including the provision of childcare services and onsite translation services,” explains Elaine Goulbourne, Director, Primary Care and the Peter Gilgan Centre for Women’s Cancers. “We further reduced transportation barriers by providing TTC tokens, taxi chits and parking passes – our goal is to make the event as streamlined and accessible as possible.”

Each participant was also paired with a navigator to help guide them through the process.

“While our clinicians are excellent, their ability to directly affect the patient’s experience is usually limited to the scheduled appointment time,” describes Camille Williams, one of the event organizers and the Innovation, Spread and Scale Lead at the Peter Gilgan Centre for Women’s Cancers. “Our navigators were able to extend that warmth and care beyond the exam rooms and elevate a routine healthcare appointment to a healthcare experience.”

In a post-event survey, 92.5 per cent of participants responded that they felt empowered by their experience at Women’s and that there should be more events tailored to supporting Black women in the healthcare system. Going forward, the team hopes to collaborate with community partners to support similar mobile screening events within the community and facilitate access to genetic testing and counselling for Black women and other equity deserving groups.

“Having an event like this is so important because we know there are differential experiences in healthcare,” reflects Georgette, who has a family history of cancer, learned about the event through her sister and took the opportunity to get screened for the first time. “This event helps address some of the historical and contemporary issues, and also spreads awareness of the importance of getting screened.”