Breast cancer patients in low- and middle-income countries often present at an advanced stage. This qualitative study elicited views regarding the challenges and opportunities for breast cancer screening and early detection among women in a low-income semi-rural community in Segamat district, Malaysia.
Individual semi-structured interviews with 22 people (health professionals, cancer survivors, community volunteers and member from a non-governmental organization) and four focus group discussions (n = 22 participants) with women from a local community were conducted. All participants were purposively sampled and female residents registered with the South East Asia Community Observatory aged ≥40 years were eligible to participate in the focus group discussions. Data were transcribed verbatim and analyzed using thematic analysis.
The thematic analysis illuminated barriers, challenges and opportunities across six domains: (i) personal experiences and barriers to help-seeking as well as financial and travel access barriers; (ii) primary care challenges (related to delivering clinical breast examination and teaching breast-self-examination); (iii) secondary care challenges (related to mammogram services); (iv) disconnection between secondary and primary care breast cancer screening pathways; and (v) opportunities to improve breast cancer early detection relating to community civil service society activities (i.e. awareness raising, support groups, addressing stigma/embarrassment and encouraging husbands to support women) and vi) links between public healthcare personnel and community (i.e. improving breast self-examination education, clinical breast examination provision and subsidised mammograms).
The results point to a variety of reasons for low uptake and, therefore, to the complex nature of improving breast cancer screening and early detection. There is a need to adopt a systems approach to address this complexity and to take account of the socio-cultural context of communities in order, in turn, to strengthen cancer control policy and practices in Malaysia.