Cervical Cancer Screening In Women With Learning Disability Is Lower Than General Population

March 05, 1999

(Cross sectional survey of cervical cancer screening in women with learning disability)

Coverage in the cervical screening programme is markedly lower for women with learning disability than for the general female population, report Dr Ken Stein and Dr Nick Allen from Southampton and South West Hants Health Authority in this week's BMJ. In a survey undertaken in their region the authors found that only 13 per cent of women with learning disability, who were eligible for a smear test, had received one in the last five years, as opposed to 88 per cent of women in the general population.

The authors say that their findings do not necessarily suggest an inequitable service, as little is known about the incidence of cervical cancer in women with learning disability. They also say that it may be wrong to assume that people with a learning disability are not sexually active (cervical cancer is clearly related to sexual activity).

Stein and Allen report that additional factors may contribute to this population's limited access to the cervical screening programme, such as a low demand from these women; perceived difficulty in obtaining consent; uncertainty about who is responsible for routine care (general practitioners or specialist teams) and the pressure of competing demands from other groups of patients.

The authors conclude that further research is needed into the acceptability of screening by women with learning disabilities.


Dr Ken Stein, Wessex Institute for Health Research and Development, University of Southampton


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