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Eur J Oncol Nurs. 2009 Sep;13(4):280-6. doi: 10.1016/j.ejon.2009.02.005. Epub 2009 Mar 17.

The meaning of cancer for Australian Aboriginal women; changing the focus of cancer nursing.

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Queensland University of Technology, Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, 60 Musk Avenue, Kelvin Grove 4059, Queensland, Australia.



The purpose of the study was to explore why Aboriginal women participate in cancer screening programs but appear reluctant to following-up results, or accept medical advice about treatment.


Interpretive ethnography, a qualitative methodology, was used to explore Aboriginal women's perception of cancer, and the cultural context in which meaning was constructed and influenced treatment decision. Data collection, which occurred over two years, involved fieldwork, participant-observation, face-to-face interviews and focus groups, in two rural Aboriginal communities. Forty eight interviews were recorded from a cross section of the communities, including cancer survivors and patients, family members, health care providers and other women from the community.


Key findings were that Aboriginal women's had a fearful and fatalistic attitude toward cancer, doubted the efficacy of treatment and carried an enduring ambivalence toward the authority of whiteman's medicine. The women faced a dilemma of wanting access to cancer treatment options but feared entering hospital or clinics not attuned to their cultural needs.


The findings highlight the need for a culture-centred approach that decentres the authority of conventional services and instead gives prominence to Aboriginal cultural values as a focal point in cancer control. It should be the responsibility of cancer nurses and others to engage with their local Aboriginal communities to build relationships that foster an exchange of learning about cultural differences that make a difference to how cancer control is practiced.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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