Graduation Year

2008

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Anthropology

Major Professor

Roberta Baer, Ph.D.

Keywords

Purity, Cancer prevention, Judaism, Mary Douglas, Disparities

Abstract

The colorectal cancer (CRC) incidence in Ashkenazi Jews has been found to be highest of any ethnic group in the world (Feldman, 2001). It is currently unclear how culture and religion influence health behaviors of U.S. Ashkenazi Jews, as well as what other socio-cultural factors influence AJ women's attitudes towards CRC risk and screening practices. This study aimed at exploring and describing the cultural and religious influences on health behaviors and beliefs related to CRC in Ashkenazi Jewish women. Research participants included seven key informants (rabbis) and forty-two Ashkenazi Jewish women ages 50 and up. Methods included in-depth, qualitative interviews and focus groups. The study also utilized a demographic survey which included questions about baseline knowledge of colorectal cancer in Ashkenazi Jews, and a ten-item American Cancer Society's Questionnaire on Experiences with and Attitude toward CRC Screening.

Participants were recruited from Tampa synagogues and community using non-probabilistic sampling. Results revealed only 5% of participants were aware of the increased prevalence of colorectal cancer in Ashkenazi Jews; still, most participants (88%) were up to date on colorectal cancer screening. Judaic purity laws did not resonate with many participants, and for those who did follow them, they did not take a view of bodily functions as being impure. A consistent description of a 'Jewish way' of looking at health emerged, involving both the push for education, which increases knowledge about and access to healthcare, as well as the core Jewish tenet of the infinite value of life. No significant differences were found among the screening practices of the three self-identified denominations, and only breast and cervical cancer screening were found to be significantly different between those who have ever had a CRC screening and those who have not.

Recommendations highlight the need for future research in this area including larger samples, further exploring core Jewish tenets as related to health behaviors in this population, partnering with the Jewish community for interventions, and addressing ways to better track CRC incidence, mortality and screening in this population in order to raise awareness.

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