The influence of socio-demographic factors on the stage at which women’s breast cancer is diagnosed and treatment prescribed in the Gaza Strip, occupied Palestinian territory

20 Mar 2023
Walaa Ammar-Shehada, Piet Bracke

Background: One of every three women diagnosed with breast cancer (BC) in Gaza does not live for more than 5 years. They are faced by unreliable treatment plans. Radiotherapy is not available locally and there are chronic shortages in the chemotherapy medications. This paper aims to provide understanding of how socio-demographic factors affect the stage at which the cancer is diagnosed and what treatment is prescribed.

Methods: Data were collected through a cross-sectional survey targeting women living in Gaza who had been diagnosed with BC at least once. The survey was self-administered and distributed to 350 women between 1 March 2021 and 30 May 2021. Multinomial logistic regression (SPSS, version 28.0) was used to explore the association between stage of the cancer at diagnosis and socio-demographic characteristics. The relationship between the stage at diagnosis and prescribed treatment was explored using a cluster analysis and crosstabulations.

Findings: Socio-demographic inequalities were reflected in stage at diagnosis and varied by age, education, employment, marital status, and refugee status. Breast cancer was less likely to be detected at an advanced stage among educated respondents (women with primary education OR = 0.093, p = 0.008 and women with preparatory education OR = 0.172, p = 0.005), employed women (OR = 0.056, p = 0.022). It was more likely to be detected at an early stage (OR = 3.954, p = 0.011) in women aged 41–50. In widowed and separated/divorced women, it was less likely to be detected at an early stage (OR = 0.217, p = 0.029) and (OR = 0.294, p = 0.028) respectively, than among married women. Among refugee women, it was less likely to be detected at early stage than among non-refugee women (OR = 0.251, p = 0.007). Among the total respondents, only 30% of the full prescribed treatment was available locally.

Conclusion: Our research showed various levels of inequalities at the stage of diagnosis by age, marital status, education, employment and refugee status. Most of the survivors needed treatment that was unavailable locally.

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