Religion and Spirituality: Influence on Health/Risk Behavior and Cancer Screening Behavior of African Americans

Article excerpt

Abstract: In spite of the diversity in the principles, expression and practice, it is believed that significant improvements can occur in the health status of African Americans if health education and outreach efforts are presented and promoted through religious, spiritual and faith-based venues. Several reports published in the peer-reviewed literature address issues related to religion, spirituality and cancer control among African Americans. This growing body of literature describes outcomes of several cancer prevention and control programs designed for and conducted within the African American faith community. However, few efforts have been undertaken to examine the influence of religion and spirituality on health/risk behavior and cancer screening practices of African Americans within the faith community. This report presents the outcomes of an exploratory study undertaken to examine the influence of religion and spirituality on the health/risk behavior and cancer screening practices of African American congregants. Data suggest a need for tailored and targeted health education, outreach and programming among the targeted group of congregants focused specifically on tobacco control, diet and nutrition, exercise and physical activity, weight management, and cancer screening. The same appears to be the case relative to the need for education, outreach and programming focused on communication with primary care providers.

Key Words: African Americans; Religion and Spirituality; Health/Risk Behaviors; Cancer Screening.

Discoveries, advances and breakthroughs made across the care continuum over the last two decades have led to significant declines in cancer incidence, declines in cancer mortality and increases in overall life expectancy for men, women and children diagnosed with cancer. Yet, while the national trends in cancer incidence, mortality and survival have improved, reports reveal disparities in cancer morbidity and mortality among African American population groups (Ries, Eisner, Kosary, et al., 2004; NCHS, 2004). According to reports disseminated by the National Cancer Institute Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program African Americans experience higher overall cancer incidence, higher cancer mortality and lower five-year relative cancer survival rates than that experienced by non-Hispanic white, Native American and Alaska Native, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and Hispanic population groups. Similar trends are also noted among African Americans relative to their experience with cancer of the colon and rectum, cancer of the esophagus, cancer of the larynx, cancer of the lung, myeloma, cancer of the oral cavity and pharynx, cancer of the pancreas, cancer of the prostate (Ries, Eisner, Kosary, et al., 2004).

Many in the scientific, medical and advocacy community believe that, given what is currently known about cancer genetics, cancer biology, and cancer treatment the cancer morbidity and mortality of African Americans could be significantly reduced. Experts in the field of caner prevention and control estimate that all of the cancer deaths caused by tobacco use, heavy alcohol use, malnutrition, physical inactivity, overweight or obesity and other lifestyle factors could be prevented (Greenwald and Sondick, 1986; USDHHS, 1990; Greenwald, Kramer, and Weed, 1995; Willet, 1996; HHS, 1996; Harvard Center for Cancer Prevention, 1996; ACS 2004; ACS, 2005) This mindset has caused many educators, clinicians, researchers and advocates committed to effecting a change in these trends to design an array of culturally tailored and population specific cancer control initiatives for the African American community. Included among them are initiatives that have incorporated elements of religion and spirituality in the program design and initiatives that have been designed for presentation within the faith community (ACS, 2005; NCI, 2004; Markens, Fox, Taub & Gilbert, 2002; Duan, Fox, Derose & Carson, 2000; Stockdale, Keeler, Duan, Derose & Fox, 2000; Skinner, Sykes, Monsees, Andriole, Arfken & Fisher, 1998; Eng, 1993; Eng, 1992; Howze & Broyden, 1992; Lacey, Phillips, Ansell, Whitman, Ebie & Chen, 1989). …