Cultural screening shawls make their way to ACT

Artist Kristie Peters models a breast cancer screening shawl. Picture: Kerrie Brewer.

BreastScreen ACT has launched an initiative using cultural screening shawls to encourage more Aboriginal women to have a breast screen. 

Inspired by the Beautiful Shawl Project, which BreastScreen Victoria launched in 2018, BreastScreen ACT is collaborating with Wiradjuri artist Kirstie Peters and the Canberra Hospital Foundation. 

The cultural screening shawl project aims to improve Aboriginal women's breast screening experience and ensure they feel more comfortable, respected and safe. The shawls feature the work of local artists, with meanings that are unique and special to each community. 

Last year, only 51% of Canberra's Indigenous women over 40 were screened for breast cancer through BreastScreen ACT, compared to 57% of the general female population. Nationally, only 38% of Indigenous women aged 50-74 were screened for breast cancer, compared to 54% of non-indigenous women.  

"There is not one Aboriginal family that hasn't been impacted by breast cancer, and so this initiative is going to save lives," Caroline Hughes, from the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body, said. "Women are the nurturers and the givers of life, and we need to encourage our women to be able to come in and get their breast check." 

Artist Kristie Peters dedicated the shawls to the memory of her cousin Tanya, who died from breast cancer in April 2019. 

"There is nothing more painful in life when we lose someone so dear. It not only affects our families, it affects our whole Aboriginal community," Kristie said. 

A breast cancer screening shawl designed by Kristie Peters. Picture: Kerrie Brewer.

Her striking designs represent women from different nations coming together with an unbroken bond and connection, showing the wisdom, strength, courage, and determination that keeps them culturally strong, Kristie explained. 

"To create an art piece for people to see is one thing, but to create and design an art piece that can change someone's life journey is even more special." 

BreastScreen Victoria CEO Terri Smith said, "It's so wonderful to see the idea of the screening shawls expand beyond Victoria to help give Aboriginal women in ACT a more positive experience and sense of pride in undergoing a breast screen." 

"Aboriginal women have told us the cultural screening shawls provided a culturally inclusive and positive experience when they had their breast screen," Terri added. "It's important that we can reduce barriers to breast screening wherever possible because early detection saves lives." 

Breast cancer is the most common cancer for Aboriginal women. Aboriginal women typically screen at lower rates than the general population; however, the number of Aboriginal women accessing breast screens increases each year. Since October 2018, our mobile screening service has visited 14 communities, and over 350 Aboriginal women have screened as part of the Beautiful Shawl Project.