Lower rates of cervical and breast screening found in Canadian population study

breast and cervical screening

Lower rates of cervical and breast cancer screening have been reported in women with learning disabilities when compared to the general population.

The researchers in this Canadian Study set out to look at whether there were any differences in the rates of cervical and breast screening between women with learning disabilities and those without. As well as looking at the differences in numbers, they wanted to look to see if there were still differences between women with and without learning disabilities, after they had accounted for other factors such as age, socio-economic status, rural or urban settings and the use of healthcare services.

What they did was to compare two samples of women, one sample of women with learning disabilities and one of women without, controlling for any important confounders in cancer screening. They drew their data from health administrative databases and registries in Ontario.

The comparisons were made between two cohorts one of all the women identified form the data as having learning disabilities and a second from a random sample of 20% of all women without learning disabilities.

What they found was that the proportion of women with learning disabilities not screened for cervical cancer was nearly double the proportion of those without learning disabilities who were not screened.

When looking at the results for breast screening, they found that the proportion with learning disabilities not screened was nearly one and a half times greater .

They conclude that their findings add to the concerns about the inequity experienced by women with learning disabilities in gaining access to cancer screening. They suggest a need for the development of public health interventions to specifically target this population.

In the UK, there are a number of resources currently available, for example those available at through the Public Health England website

Are cervical and breast cancer screening programmes equitable? The case of women with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Cobigo, V. et al., in Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 57: 478–488.


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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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