Race, masculinity and genetic counselling.

During my conversation with Suresh Rambaran about Black men and prostate cancer I surprised myself by stating that I had never seen a Black man in a genetic cancer clinic, in the UK, in nearly 10 years of working in genetics counselling.

While it may be expected that less men seek genetic counselling for conditions which increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, there are genetic conditions that increase the chance of cancer for both men and women. Conditions like Lynch syndrome and familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) syndrome that increase the risks of bowel cancer for example. I work in a diverse part of the country so even accounting for the expected differences, it remains both noticeable and curious to me that I cannot recall seeing a Black man for genetic counselling for any cancer condition. It is important to note that I have seen patients for a range of other non-cancer genetic conditions and although the numbers are often smaller than expected, I have seen Black men in these clinics.

Low numbers of men presenting in healthcare is well recognised. Men appear less likely to recognise symptoms, report them early or to adhere to screening. The health seeking behaviour of men with hereditary conditions that primarily affect women show similar trends though additional factors like being less likely to receive information or having lower risks of cancer can contribute to the differences observed.

For me, these issues raise questions about how personal and social perceptions of masculinity drive health seeking behaviour and even how they contribute to what genetic information is shared with men. The intersectionality of race and masculinity on health seeking behaviour has been considered for years. Studies have looked at the cultural norms, values and expectations that impact how men seek services. From the individuals we have spoken to through Genetics Engage we have heard that difficulties accessing services can be due to who professionals refer to specialist services like genetic counselling. Perhaps professionals may worry that patients might react negatively to referrals or at worst they may hold assumptions that they just would not benefit or be interested.

Reflecting on a month like Movember certainly makes me think about ways in which conversations can be had to better support men to engage in genetic services. Specific and tailored interventions just will not be possible without talking to Black men about what they want and need to offer services that improve their health.



Sharing visions

27 November 2020

The word on my mind this week is collaboration. This week was electric, I started it by giving  a talk on the role of cross cultural communication in healthcare to a group a of Paediatricians in the North West of England who have formed a group called ‘A dialogue on race’. The way we found each other demonstrates the power of collaboration and the strength of building networks inside and outside of your profession.

Early this year I started a project to look at supporting Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic nurses who want to become genetic counsellors. It meant that I was exposed to professionals from the fire service, the police service, Manchester city council and health organisations across Greater Manchester. Meeting people with aligned aims who I could learn from and share with helped my confidence and my expertise grow. 11 months later I am embedded in networks in my NHS trust for Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff and in those for health equity in Manchester. This exposure is what led to the invitation to speak with a passionate, organised and motivated group of paediatricians on a chilly Monday evening over zoom.

I ended the week with a talk to genetic counsellors in the North West of England on institutional accountability. I can feel the fledgling spirit of transformation taking hold across my NHS trust, my profession and in healthcare. All because we have been open to working with each other sharing ideas and good practice.


You can learn more about A Dialogue on Race here: