Cultural Beliefs and Health Behaviors towards Cancer Prevention and Cure Essay Sample
Culture and health behavior towards cancer were observed to be significantly related to each other. Various beliefs held by different cultural groups provided the differences in their level of acceptance and perception towards cancer prevention and screening. Despite the medical advancements that had taken place, cancer screening and cure was not availed by all due to the barriers of cultural beliefs. Effective community-based interventions must be employed relevantly to the cultural biases of the individuals in order to address their risks of having cancer.
Culture was considered to be complex as well as multifaceted and more social workers and health care professionals recognized the role it played for a population’s health behavior. It was even considered as “the stuff that human paradigms are made of” as well as the guiding force that provided “the identity, beliefs, values, and behaviors” (Simon 2006).
Culture was not something that was genetically created. It was something that included patterns of behavior that were influenced by common ideas, values and meanings (Simon 2006).
Health behavior was shaped by a lot of different things and culture was a major factor in its composition. It was observed to have been rooted in the American psyche, race as well as the delivery of care to different locations; all of these were connected to culture (Simon 2006). Ethnicity also influenced culture. It referred to a collective notion of “peoplehood” and shared group experience by individuals who shared a common heritage (Simon 2006).
An individual’s beliefs would influence one’s choice for healthcare, treatments and perception about diseases. In the case for cancer, a terminal disease that had been taking over a 500,000 lives in the United States annually (Andrykowski, et al. 2003). Malignant diseases was said to be second of the most common causes of deaths in the U.S., second only to heart disease (Andrykowski, et al. 2003). The cultural beliefs of the person could influence manner the person addressed such a disease.
Prevention strategies, treatments and perception of cancer would be steered from a person’s cultural background. Significant research had been done to create a connection between African Americans and Caucasian women regarding breast cancer. This paper would discuss models and perspectives that compared cultural beliefs in relation to cancer. The distinction of each cultural belief stood for the uniqueness of each population.
Background and Significance
This paper would descriptively present culture and how it affected health behaviors towards cancer. Everybody understood culture but it was difficult to actually place a general description for it. According to Gesler & Kearns (2002), culture was complex and it was composed of socially produced values, rules and beliefs by which society represented its view of the world and the members believed it as well. It was even seen as inherited lens from which an individual perceived and understands that world he lived in (Gesler & Kearns 2002).
Moreover, culture separated the “healthy” from the “ill” (Gesler & Kearns 2002). Culture had been an important factor in the discourse of healthcare because of its role in the promotion of health. It had been known to provide people the welfare that medicine or other treatment provided the individual believed in it. The fact that would make the person avail a certain treatment or a medical procedure would be the culture that molded that person.
There were many different ways by which cancer had been perceived by different ethnicities and cultures. In some cases, their beliefs had geared them towards seeking prevention and medical treatments for cancer. However, other cases had made them to ignore the gravity that cancer could bring. The influence culture had on people was reason enough to study its relationship with healthcare. This would widen the extend of knowledge health providers and social workers have in reaching out to people who held on to different cultural beliefs. It also paved the way for a better understanding with intercultural behavior in addressing the cost cancer had placed among the people that had it.
It was common human nature to contrast one’s self from others. Cultural groups have drawn boundaries within their groups with those they culturally agree with and exclude those considered deviant because of different cultural beliefs held (Gesler & Kearns 2002). This cultural otherness had drove a gap between the people who had health and those who were ill.
This research was created against the disparity of healthcare amongst different populations based on culture. It might have been because of the population’s rejection of healthcare or a misconception of such groups, but cancer prevention and treatment was evident in diverse cultural groups. Cancers was observed to disproportionate affect populations from different races and ethnicity (Simon 2006). Moreover, there was a lack of socio-cultural compatibility and understanding between patients and health providers that contribute to the said disparities (Simon 2006).
Purpose of the Study
The paper was created to describe the disparity of healthcare provision between cultural groups. It was very important to consider different models that connected culture with healthcare. Healthcare researchers had always seen the interrelation between differences in beliefs and health. Along with this, a description of the prevalent culture groups and their beliefs was also significant to discuss. This paper also built a working concept for what made up culture. It was not just about ethnicity, it was also about religious beliefs as well as generational ideals. Models and principles of health were provided in order to manifest the actual situation of healthcare and how culture had critically impacted the lives of people.
Misconceptions and the lack of understanding of the “other” cultures was the leading reason for such a disparity. In this paper, the different cultures would be discussed in accordance to their perception towards cancer prevention and treatment. There was also a need to discover alternative medical treatments that were acceptable to other cultures. In order to develop proper and information-based assessment of cancer prevention and treatments from across cultures, a review of the said treatments must be done.
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
Cancer was not the same threat as it as before. Individuals were getting cured or lives were being prolonged from the time of diagnosis to death (Andrykowski, et al. 2003). The hope given by such observation made cancer prevention and treatment a viable area of research when it came to the “psychological and social ramifications of the malignant disease” (Andrykowski, et al. 2003). While success stories were positive to hear, successes still needed to be explained in terms of a field of discipline in order to save more lives from cancer (Ross 1996). Most of the time seeking explanation came in the form of dispelling superstitious beliefs and the like (Ross 1996).
Today, new therapies were now available to enable the body to battle this disease. Success stories came out of photodynamic therapy (pulsed lasers and tumor-targeted radio-sensitizers), drugs vaccine therapies, and other further advancements were arriving in the scene to fight cancer (Dess 2001). However, the question did not lie in the variety of scientific advancements that existed to cure cancer. The more important concern was how these treatments were perceived and if they were availed by individuals. How did cultures influence the kind of prevention and treatment they sought for cancer?
Cultural Response to Cancer
There had been a traditional response to cancer that existed in America characterized by being highly negative because of how it impacted the functioning of the patients and their families. Cancerphobia had been a characteristic that had been maintained over the years in terms of the uncertainty found in the causes for cancer and its incidence rates (Ballard 1996).
There was a time in the early 1900s wherein a cancer diagnosis was equivalent of a death sentence (Ballard 1996). All that medicine had to offer was pain management. However, for those who did not have their malignant tumors taken out, there existence of pain remained, the removal of affected limbs, diminished capacity, disfiguring tumors, and untimely deaths were what cancer brought the patients.
There were many “cures” that surfaced as exploited by the mainstream media. There was faith healing, tonics, salves, ointments and even leeches (Ballard 1996). There were also preventive drugs and patent medicines that came out for everyone to supposedly prevent cancer as the fear for it grew. There were a number of theories that turned up about the causes of cancer. Some said cancer was hereditary, while some said it was caused by personality characteristics such as moodiness and sadness (Ballard 1996). There were others who believed it was caused by stress from urbanization wherein class distinctions classified those who were more prone to cancer (Ballard 1996).
Popular theories involved the germ and the irritation theory. The former was a theory pointed out how cancer was caused by irritants in the body like bruises, infections, bumps, sores and the like. The germ theory stated that germs caused cancer that made it contagious. It was the time wherein people thought cancer was related to a communicable or a venereal disease (Ballard 1996).
The Counterculture for Cancer
The counter culture was skeptical of the traditional or orthodox medical treatments of the cancer in the turn of the century (Ballard 1996). While the medical industry was focusing on high technology and therapy research, the counter culture called for them to consider prevention instead. They saw controlling pollution, eating health, drinking alcohol less and stopping smoking were the actions to be taken against cancer. They wanted to turn cancer establishment into cancer prevention. The group had been a popular and wide force during the 1970s. Evidently, the cancer counterculture was strong enough to pressure the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to begin trials of laetrile without prior evidence of efficacy (Ballard 1996).
Alternative Cancer Treatments
Along with the cancer counterculture, there had been the proliferation of alternative cancer treatments that were characterized for being unorthodox (Ballard 1996). Alternative approaches involved improving the patient’s well being together with other treatments that were considered frauds and dangerous to the health of the individual. There was the popularity of naturalistic approaches to medicine for cancer treatments (Ballard 1996). During that time there also grew a negative perception for the cancer counterculture. It was considered dangerous health behavior to engage in such over the edge alternative therapies. Much attention had been given to the effects of such treatments.
The “culture of plural medical systems” had been the center for analysis when it came to cancer treatment. Medical anthropology referred to the study of health behavior, perception and beliefs of the people in accordance to their community’s culture. Asian medical systems were seen to be one of the most intrinsically dynamic and consistently evolving systems (Ersnt 2002). Patients were also observed by medical anthropologists to consult a number of healers in hopes of cure of provision of better health care (Ernst 2002). Histories of medical anthropology importantly noted how patients were active subjects and were not passive towards looking for cure and healthcare provision. They were also observed to suffer the treatments they felt were imposed on them by the domineering medical experts of their societies (Ernst 2002).
Western medicine had always claimed therapeutic superiority (Ernst 2002). This claimed was challenged by different treatment outcomes from different non-Western medical systems. Western medical systems were discovered to not be universally preferred and easily accessible as a treatment option societies from around the globe.
The attitude towards pain rooted not in biology but in culture (Morris 1994). The Western societies had seen drugstores with pills to provide pain relief temporarily. Under this culture, any pain that could be defeated by an over-the-counter pill was not worth dwelling over (Morris 1994). There was a twist thought that revealed Americans to do too little about pain but at the same time believe that they take in too many drugs.
Patients described cancer to cause extreme amounts of pain at various kinds or forms. They had brought physical, mental and emotional pain for the patients and the families who loved them. There was a bio-cultural perspective towards pain that explained how societies dealt with it in different manners. It was described to be more than a medical issue (Morris 1994). It had historical, psychological and cultural dimensions (Morris 1994). Minds and cultures had a powerful influence over the experience of pain, by decreasing it or increasing it (Morris 1994).
Culturally Explanatory Models
There were different theories that constructed health behavior. However, the key determinants to it were attitudes, perceived norms and personal agency (Simon 2006). There was a criticism for determinants that were based solely on logical and critical thinking of the patients. There was little attention given to the sociocultural determinants of health behavior (Simon 2006). The cultural explanatory models (CEMs) complemented the more traditional models of determining health behavior. CEMs were constantly changing because cultural beliefs and values were also changing (Simon 2006). Even health care providers had different cultural explanations of health and illness. Social networks were said to influence the norms, beliefs and attitudes that determine health behavior. For instance, the reputation of health care providers in the neighborhood also influences how well or bad people would allow their health to get (Simon 2006).
According to Moore and Spiegel (2003), “cultural assumptions, expectations, and interpretations of the patient also influence how they behave in the medical consultation, what they understand, how they feel and if they adhere to treatment afterwards” (p. 22). Cultural beliefs ranged from end-of-life issues from religion, personal or historical history of discrimination from health as well as inclination for alternative therapies and techniques.
Relaxation Therapy. Since cancer had been culturally perceived to be related to stress, relaxation therapy was one of the techniques seen to prevent it. It was through observation and sensitivity to the body’s kinesthetic sensations and the mental processes that came with that that accomplished complete relaxation (Freeman & Lawlis 2001). It was discovered to improve immune competence and reduce circulatory stress.
Meditation. Different researchers provided for different forms of meditation, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi created the transcendental meditation, Herbert Benson had the respiratory one method, and Carrington and colleagues developed the clinically standardized meditation while the Buddhist always had the mindfulness meditation (Freeman & Lawlis 2001). It had also been seen to strengthen immune function, modulate mood states of depression and cope with chronic pain among other things.
Religious belief was also a basic level of religion (Koenig et al, 2001). Most of the ethnic groups had different levels of Christian belief in God. There were still differences in belief depending upon the religious affiliation of the person (Koenig et al, 2001). Protestants, Catholics and Jewish had different perceptions and cultural beliefs that accompanied their health behavior. Most of them believe in physical and emotional healing that was categorized as a religious experience (Koenig et al, 2001). Most of them could be attributed to healing powers of the Holy Spirit and something similar to it in the form of miracles.
Most religious people had healthy lifestyles that prevented disease (Koenig et al, 2001). While some religious influences were geared towards better health behaviors, some actually prevented individuals from seeking health care at their own risk of missing early detection prevention for cancer.
Screening Differences by Ethnicity
Cancer screening was seen as a very important measure in preventing cancer’s fatal effects. It was very important to detect malignant cells or tumors in the patient’s system in order to provide remedy to it while it was still beginning and had not yet spread.
African Americans. Pessimism and fatalism were beliefs that were dominantly observed with African Americans and their perception of cancer screening (Simon 2006). Screening was perceived if there were “looking for trouble.” They did not believe screening prevented cancer. While it was true that screening did not prevent cancer, they did provide for early detection that could impact the course and outcome of a cancer diagnosis (Simon 2006). The acknowledge of such cultural beliefs give the social workers an opportunity to provide the community with more efficient healthcare services because they had understood the fears and doubts of the group.
African American women also held domestic violence as a factor why they avoided screening. The secretive nature of this abuse made them stay away from such procedures. They feared that trauma could have caused their cancer and the detection would produce unwanted revelation of domestic violence (Simon 2006). Religion and faith amongst African Americans also played a role as the believed only God cured cancer and questioned the purpose of cancer screenings (Simon 2006). Healthcare providers could use the people’s belief system in encouraging them to use diagnostic procedures and highlight the fact that God provided diagnostic procedures and treatment to cure cancer.
Hispanic. Fatalism was also observed with the Hispanic or Latin community (Simon 2006). Cancer was seen as a death sentence and that early detection were not valuable at all. Some of the Hispanic cultures also saw screening procedures to cause cancer (Simon 2006). When it came to Hispanic women and breast cancer, they reserved the act of touching their breasts as something reserved for intimate partners. They were observed to be uncomfortable with a male doctor touching their breasts or found it necessary to ask for permission from their partners (Simon 2006). Their spiritual belief that God’s will was final was also seen as a barrier as their willingness to screen. They believed that if God wanted them to have cancer, early detection could not change the outcome of what God wanted (Simon 2006).
Asian American/Pacific Islanders. They had fatalism and cultural beliefs that regarded karma and misconceptions of the cause of cancer to be barriers to their willingness to screen for the disease (Simon 2006). They believed that cancer represented punishment for not living properly to bring about bad karma through cancer. There were also a dominant preference for Eastern medicine and modesty that prevented them from undergoing screening (Simon 2006).
American Indian/Alaskan Native. There were increasing cancer deaths for American Indian and Alaskan Natives over the past decades (Simon 2006). Most of them see cancer as a punishment for something they did wrong in their life (Simon 2006). They also believe screenings could bring about cancer as well. Navajo tradition dictated how language could shape what actually happens (Simon 2006). They did not want to even speak about cancer because it could bring it into being; similar to the act of “claiming” was taking ownership by considering its possibility. They believed that screening was an act of claiming cancer and it could make cancer a reality.
Elderly Perspective of Cancer
Other than the culture of different ethnicities, age and generational differences revealed different cultures as well. Specifically, the elderly people had a definite perception towards cancer that was molded from the culture of old age. Spirituality was a major factor that defined this culture. Most of the individuals belonging to this group realize they neared the time of their passing and turn to spiritual beliefs like religion in order to give them a sense of peace and acceptance to the things that would occur. Spirituality was defined as their reliance on the “sacred in the search for meaning, purpose, and significance” (Ka’Opua et al. 2007, p. 29). Such inclinations provided the use of spiritually based resources to cope with cancer, among other things.
Health Belief Model
The Health Belief Model (HBM) was created to provide a framework in the understanding and prediction of the health behaviors of African Americans with prostate cancer (Pierce, et al. 2003). However, this model could be stretched into included cultural beliefs from whatever cultural group in relation to any form of cancer. Under this model, there were a few factors that made up health behaviors in connection with cancer:
(1) Perceived susceptibility (that is, the person’s beliefs and attitudes about contracting the illness); (2) perceived severity (that is, the person’s assessment of the seriousness of having the illness or not having treatment for the illness); (3) perceived benefits (that is, the person’s assessment of the positive outcomes of seeking treatment for the illness); (4) perceived barriers (that is, factors that impede a person’s motivation to engage in health-related practices) (Pierce, et al. 2003, p. 302).
Studies have shown higher incidence and mortality rate that result in African Americans or ethnicities of color in relation to their socioeconomic status. The beliefs of different ethnicities had already been discussed in connected to how they perceived prevention. It was important to understand the different perceptions based on the HBM that would provide higher perceptions of benefits and severity for cancer.
METHODOLOGY AND PROCEDURES
The research about culture and in relation to how cultural groups respond to it was conducted through a literature analysis. Most of the sources that were used in this research were from online libraries like Questia.com and from a search of books that were available through Amazon.com. Culture was a wide topic to consider. The research was narrowed down in terms of the perceptions of different cultural groups towards healthcare, cancer prevention and treatment. Health magazines were consulted as they provided the information needed in understanding cancer prevention and treatment. Sociological and anthropological articles were also gathered to explain cultural beliefs, differences and perceptions towards healthcare. There were also medical handbooks that discussed the psychology of health. There were also various scholarly journals that analyzed alternative medical treatments that other cultures adhered to.
Culture was proven to impact the health behavior of individuals. There were a lot of different treatments and perceptions towards cancer that the diversity of culture had to be understood in order to explain the variety that emerged. Religion, ethnicity, age were just the areas covered by this research in affecting a community’s cultural belief.
The diagnosis of cancer had been traditionally seen as a death sentence in itself because of the lack of explanation and cure provided for this malignant disease. However, advancement in medical research, technology and systems offered a better future for individuals with cancers or those who feared it. There were different therapies provided that actually cured cancer or prolonged the life of the patients.
Health care providers had found it difficult to cross cultural barriers in their quest to provide effective healthcare service in terms of cancer screening and prevention because of the cultural perceptions that worked against it. It was also important to note that Western Orthodox medicine systems were not universally accepted, contrary to what mainstream doctors and health providers may had perceived. Different cultural groups needed different approaches that were relevant to their beliefs in order to provide for them the best possible healthcare in terms of cancer prevention and treatment.
Discussion, Conclusion and Implications
This paper described the role of culture in influencing health behaviors towards cancer. Cancer was said to take at least half a million lives in the United States each year. It came second only to heart diseases. While there existed a cancerphobia in the country, the field of medicine had come a long way in the provision of cure for cancer. It had also provided for early detection strategies in order to heighten the chance to take the cancer out of the patient’s system. While all of these medical advancements in the prevention and cure of cancer were significant, they would remain futile if healthcare providers could not make people undergo procedures to prevent or fight cancer.
It was important to develop competent community-based interventions in areas wherein there was cultural diversity (Burhansstipanov 1999). Cultural beliefs was said to play the underlying factor in determining the health behavior of the individual. Interventions must be relevant to other cultures, not just to the dominant Western and White culture of the United States. The identification of barriers was important in efficient cancer prevention and control programs (Burhansstipanov 1999). There were also poverty-related issues that must be considered in addressing their lack of willingness to undergo prevention and control activities of such interventions. Healthcare providers must also recognize that barriers cannot be generalized but must be understood by an individualized evaluation of the patient.
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