Navigating the Cancer Care System

Navigating the Cancer Care System: Has the Experience of African Nova Scotians Improved?

Recognizing the inequities faced by African Nova Scotians in accessing the cancer care system, CCNS commissioned a needs assessment in 2001. Based on the findings of this project, CCNS implemented a number of initiatives to address the challenges experienced by African Nova Scotians.

In 2012, CCNS conducted a series of focus groups in five African Nova Scotian communities (Yarmouth, Tracadie, Whitney Pier, North and East Preston and metro Halifax) to assess if the experience of African Nova Scotians had improved.

The findings of this report illustrate that, as a result of a myriad of policy and project initiatives, within and beyond CCNS, there has been improvement with respect to:
• access to education, information and resources in their own communities
• knowledge of the role of Cancer Patient Navigation
• cultural competency of health professionals working within the cancer care system
• feeling more empowered in their interactions with health professionals and the health care system

I found when my husband was sick, the minute you went in to open the door and went into the cancer centre, it was just an overwhelming feeling. They were so compassionate and so kind and so caring, they just put you at ease the best they could. I thought I was just so fortunate to be blessed to have them, all of them. (quote from focus group participant)

However, members of the African Nova Scotian community continue to:
• experience systemic racism, particularly within primary health care settings
• encounter delays in accessing cancer specialist services
• hold misconceptions regarding cancer and its treatment
• face challenges in communicating with health professionals
• struggle in making informed decisions about their care
• face barriers with respect to transportation, medication costs, other financial issues and geographic isolation.

… they don’t recognize the cultural differences. And so you almost feel like they’re never going to understand. They won’t understand our responses, they won’t understand how it affects us …. (quote from focus group participant)

…when I was diagnosed, it would be nice to see an African Nova Scotian face there [among health professionals]. You don’t see them. (quote from focus group participant)


CCNS believes that many of the challenges experienced by African Nova Scotians could be addressed through the following recommendations:

• Enhancing the cultural competence of health professionals, particularly those working in primary care settings.

• Developing mechanisms for African Nova Scotians to be treated and supported by African Nova Scotians.

• Raising awareness of disease risk factors and screening recommendations specific to African Nova Scotians, amongst health professionals and African Nova Scotians.

• Continuing to develop connections between Cancer Patient Navigators and African Nova Scotian communities.

• Conducting health research specific to the African Nova Scotian community.

In response to the findings and recommendations of this report, CCNS will continue to:
• Integrate cultural competency within Oncology continuing education programs
• Apply “The Cultural Competence Assessment Tool for Clinical Guidelines Development"
• Raise awareness of cancer risk factors and screening recommendations specific to African Nova Scotians.
• Develop connections between Cancer Patient Navigators and African Nova Scotian communities.

And, over the coming months, CCNS will be meeting with a variety of stakeholders to explore how to address the broader health system and research issues raised in this report. View the full report.



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