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Cultural Differences, Modesty and Preventive Screenings

Preventive screenings such as mammograms, Pap smears and colonoscopies are an essential aspect of health care because they help detect cancers early, when they are still treatable.

For example, research has shown that women who have regular mammograms are more likely to have breast cancer detected early and be cured, and less likely to need aggressive treatments such as mastectomy and chemotherapy.

Unfortunately, cultural differences can sometimes limit a patient’s ability to talk about and take advantage of screening recommendations - especially with Pap smears and colonoscopies.

Cultural Modesty and Medicine

Modesty is the backbone of many cultures, and these topics are often considered taboo due to family values, family roles (especially depending on the age of elders), education and communication. The same principles apply for childbearing practices in certain cultures where a large focus is given to women who are able to have children as opposed to those women who may choose to wait, decide against having children, adopt or deal with infertility.

Some Topics May Feel Taboo

Due to this lack of openness and recognition of the importance of these screenings, there is a lack of understanding. For example, it is often considered taboo to discuss concerns about breast cancer or colon cancer. Those concerns are then downplayed by others, such as family members, causing patients to feel that talking about or taking such preventative measures is out of the norm. At times, after discussing screening methods, some may recommended against by family members simply due to lack of family history or evidence of such diagnosis.

As a result, these topics are not discussed until a serious problem or symptom is detected at which time it may be too late. However, with education, open communication and normalization of medical care, such topics are now more approachable.

How I Explain Necessary Screenings

As a physician, I openly discuss and address screenings as part of the routine medical examination at every opportunity. Talking about such topics will allow patients to normalize these discussions and also ask questions. Addressing cultural barriers and building awareness of health care screenings is part of this important communication with the patients.

For example, a patient of mine, has never had a Pap smear completed because it was never considered a screening that needs to be completed for a woman who is married to only one partner. However, after explaining to patient about this type of screening and its benefits, the patient become aware of this practice and why it is important.

Know That Some Cultures May View Medicine Differently

Because the definition of modesty varies from culture to culture, age and life experiences, what one may consider modesty, someone else may not. Therefore, becoming aware of such beliefs of one’s patients is important in creating an open communication with patients and addressing concerns.

Always reach out to your provider for medical questions; they are here to guide you for your best health.

Pradeepa Vimalachandran, MD
Pradeepa Vimalachandran, MD

Pradeepa Vimalachandran, MD is a Family Medicine provider with CHI Health.

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