School of Nursing Assistant Professor Fawwaz Alaloul, Ph.D., M.P.H., M.S.N., R.N.
School of Nursing Assistant Professor Fawwaz Alaloul, Ph.D., M.P.H., M.S.N., R.N.

A study being conducted at the University of Louisville School of Nursing will provide insight into cultural and religious influences on the experiences of Muslim cancer survivors living in the United States.

The results will be used to develop culturally and religiously-sensitive interventions, such as support groups for Muslim cancer survivors, to improve quality of life and health outcomes.

Funded by more than $28,000 in grants from the Oncology Nursing Society Foundation and the American Nurses Foundation, the study is led by UofL School of Nursing Assistant Professor Fawwaz Alaloul, Ph.D., and focuses on Muslims of African, Middle Eastern and South Asian descent who reside in the United States.

“Previous studies conducted in Islamic countries showed that the religion and culture of Muslims have a great influence on their experience and how they perceive their cancer diagnosis, treatment and survivorship after treatment,” Alaloul said. “This study will help us understand the influence of religion, faith and cultural practices on their cancer experience.”

Studying Muslim cancer survivor experiences has become increasingly important as the Muslim population continues to grow in the United States. Lack of understanding by health care providers of Muslim cancer survivor experiences within the context of culture can create barriers that may interfere with health outcomes, Alaloul said.

Prior research has shown that some Muslim cancer patients use herbs and other dietary supplements to treat disease or manage symptoms and they do not share this information with health care providers. The supplements might interact with prescribed medication, adversely impacting treatment outcomes. Patients might also refuse to take medications that contain swine-derived gelatin because Muslim law forbids the consumption of pork and they do not disclose this to their providers.

“We need to make sure health care providers are aware of these differences when treating Muslim patients,” Alaloul said. “If providers are aware of these issues, they will better identify, understand and meet patients’ religious needs, which can reduce health disparities and improve health outcomes.”

Additionally, Muslims are less likely to disclose their cancer diagnosis to their community and even some relatives because they think the information is too personal. Withholding their health status means the patient forgoes emotional support from the community. Cancer support groups tailored for Muslims could improve quality of life, Alaloul said.