Mosques Enlisted to Battle Taboo

January 26, 2007


Source: The Press-Enterprise

Inland mosques and public health researchers in Los Angeles hope to improve breast cancer awareness among Muslim women through local educational programs and a broader study of attitudes about the disease.

Muslim women get breast cancer less frequently than the general population -- largely because of cultural and religious prohibitions on smoking and drinking -- but more of them die of the disease because it is diagnosed late, say physicians studying why certain ethnic groups within the Islamic world don't get breast exams.

"It is a cultural taboo" for many women, said Dr. Sondos Islam, assistant professor of public health at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles.

"It has nothing to do with religion. It's the same thing with Coptic Christians and Catholic Lebanese," Islam said. "It's the culture."

A 2003 Cornell University study of breast cancer in Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim nation, found that one in 16 women developed the disease -- half the rate of occurrence in the United States. But the disease killed 33 percent to 50 percent of the Malaysian women who had it. In the United States, 98 percent of women with breast cancer survive five years or longer if the disease is caught before it has spread.