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Addressing attitudes

Social stigmatization and discrimination in the face of cancer

By Dr. Sevtap Savas

Do cancer patients in Newfoundland and Labrador face social stigmatization and discrimination?

In addition to Dr. Savas, (far right) the study team includes Dr. Teri Stuckless, middle, an oncologist, Faculty of Medicine, and Dr. Eric Tenkorang, (far left) a sociologist, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.
In addition to Dr. Savas, far right, the study team includes Dr. Teri Stuckless, middle, an oncologist, Faculty of Medicine, and Dr. Eric Tenkorang, far left, a sociologist, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

That’s the question our team of scientists at the Faculty of Medicine is asking in an ongoing study.

Double victimization

Since Newfoundland and Labrador has one of the highest cancer rates in the country, the question is a natural one.

It is commonly observed in many cultures that cancer patients experience or perceive socially awkward or stigmatizing experiences. These may have negative effects on patients and survivors. These stigmatizing behaviors may also lead to discrimination. For example, they may be denied work, promotion or relationship opportunities that they would otherwise qualify for.

Every individual deserves to be treated with respect and to have access to the same rights, opportunities and privileges. Hence, discrimination of cancer patients also creates a social justice problem that needs to be addressed.

“I think we all would like to know how to best support our community members affected by cancer.”

Since both stigmatization and discrimination can result in negative consequences in patients’ lives, the end result is possibly additional social, economic or health-related hardship.

This means that this kind of practices potentially double victimizes cancer patients.

Online study

We have a chance to address these attitudes towards cancer patients, if they happen in Newfoundland and Labrador.

We do not know whether social stigmatization and discrimination of cancer patients occurs in the local population. If they occur, the frequency and nature of occurrence is also unknown. It is possible that it could be different in this province than in other places. Therefore, we want to first know whether these social practices happen here.

“Individuals who have ever been diagnosed with cancer, lived in N.L. any time after their diagnosis, and are 18 years or older are eligible.”

For this purpose, our study team is currently conducting an online survey study. Survey questions aim to understand whether cancer patients and survivors experience social stigmatization and discrimination while they are in Newfoundland and Labrador.

It also investigates the sources of stigmatization or discrimination, and the consequential effects on patients’ lives because of these experiences.

Individuals who have ever been diagnosed with cancer, lived in Newfoundland and Labrador any time after their diagnosis, and are 18 years or older are eligible to be a part of this study and can take the survey.

This survey can be accessed online.

Findings to be disseminated

The study is open to individuals who have been diagnosed with any type of cancers. The survey data is collected anonymously and there is an option for participants to enter into a prize draw to win one of 20 gift cards worth $25.

Our study team plans to inform provincial residents and communities about our findings through social media and the mainstream media. We will also disseminate our findings to health-care providers and the provincial government.

If we do find that cancer patients in Newfoundland and Labrador experience social stigma and discrimination, we may want to talk about it publicly. I think we all would like to know how to best support our community members affected by cancer.

We plan to do more detailed studies once the current study is complete.

Provincial reach

This is an opportunity for all of us to learn more about cancer patients’ experiences in our province. We hope that eligible residents of Newfoundland and Labrador will consider participating in the study and complete the survey. It was designed as an online survey to reach all parts of the province.

It is important that we hear from a diverse group of residents and communities throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, small communities and large towns alike. We would like the results to be representative of all of the people of this province.

Our study team hopes to reach a high enough number of participants to have meaningful results soon.

For more information about the study, please contact Dr. Savas via email or by telephone at 709-864-6507. If you have any questions regarding your rights as a research participant, please contact the Health Research Ethics Authority via email or by telephone at (709) 777-6974.


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