Article 26.02.2020

Big C Funds Innovative ‘Walking’ Social Cancer Research

Dr Sarah Hanson specialises in health promoting interventions in marginalised groups. Following her PHD at Norwich Medical School in 2016, which explored the benefits of health walks and their potential for addressing health inequalities, Sarah completed an exploratory study on cancer risk amongst women who have suffered domestic abuse and are in the justice system.

Following on from this work, Big C has provided funding for a new piece of research, exploring the value of a walking group-based intervention which aims to increase women’s health literacy around cancer in a new, accessible format, which to this point has not been previously explored.

The research - Shoulder to Shoulder: Walk and Talk

Big C has awarded £46,733 for an 18-month project to Dr Sarah Hanson and her co-applicants, Dr Wendy Hardeman, Professor Andy Jones and Dr Charlotte Salter, at the School of Health Sciences, UEA.

A series of six focused workshops with groups of women who are currently in the justice system in Great Yarmouth and Norwich, are exploring attitudes to cancer symptoms and early diagnosis measures, such as screening programmes, and how this could be promoted during  a health walk to reach socio-economically deprived groups.

Dr Sarah Hanson said, “Cancer, like many other health problems is more common in people who are less well off, have had less education and live in poorer areas. People are often too embarrassed to ask for help and many of us don’t like talking about cancer. When we spend time with people in a relaxed atmosphere it often becomes easier to talk about things that we sometimes feel difficult about, such as concerns around our health. Walking groups are a way of getting some physical activity and we also know that they have many benefits to physical and mental health. This research is investigating whether a walking group could also be used as a way of talking about health and discussing topics that we know could prevent cancer with harder to reach groups.”

The first two workshops had clear objectives to gain insight into the women’s views on cancer symptoms and screening, with the third took the form of a walk to try out having ‘healthy conversations’ about cancer. We are now creating materials to test with the group, which may take the form of non-written communication, such as an app with verbal prompts and quotes. It is felt vitally important that ‘Shoulder to Shoulder: Walk and Talk’ is developed by women for women, on their terms to enable it to work effectively.

Dr Hanson continues, “When people are walking, we find they suffer less social anxiety, they don’t have to look others in the eye, their body is moving and they feel relaxed. The first workshop revealed several areas where the women have barriers to accessing screening or health care that could lead to earlier cancer diagnosis. Many find it hard to seek or accept help, perhaps because they have always had to fend for themselves, or due to a lack of trust in public services or authority, often because of previous experiences. Control is very important to them. One of the women explained they had waited a long time to access support to mental health services, so didn’t see the point in relation to cancer. However when it was explained that the cancer pathway was different, they felt it was really important this was communicated. Health information is often given in leaflets that for some people are often too long and difficult to understand. From this research we hope to start developing a resource which is fully accessible for these women and other similar groups.

“We are so grateful to Big C for their support with this project. We hope that through this piece of research we can provide evidence that will be useful and important in considering how we approach health literacy in connection to cancer and the health benefits this could offer to relevant social groups. It has great potential.”

Dr Sarah Hanson – Lecturer in Health Sciences and Research Group member, School of Health Sciences, UEA.