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UK Study Finds People With Severe Mental Illness Less Likely To Attend Cancer Screening

Why do those with severe mental health issues struggle to attend cancer screening appointments? My Mind News investigates.

Background into the research

People with severe mental illness are less likely to attend cancer screening compared to those who do not have such conditions.

This is according to new research from the University of Surrey and the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) at the Department of Health and Social Care.

Funded by OHID and NHS England, with support from Cancer Research UK, the study found a disparity in attendance at cancer screening in people with severe mental illness.

The most pronounced disparities are observed for those diagnosed with schizophrenia, followed by those diagnosed with other psychoses and bipolar disorder.

The researchers suggested that the lower attendance at screening, seen in these populations, may be a contributing factor as to why people with severe conditions are more likely to die prematurely from cancer.

What do the study results show us?

The analysis, which included data from the Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD) on over one million people, also showed that:

  • Inequalities were the widest for bowel cancer screening (42% of people with a severe mental illness attended bowel cancer screening, compared to 59% of people without), followed by breast (48% versus 60%) and cervical screening (64% versus 70%).
  • Attendance among those with severe mental illness was particularly low for those living in more deprived parts of the country, where the prevalence of severe mental illness is also higher.


Dr Robert Kerrison, the lead author of the study at the University of Surrey, told Medical Lifesciences News,

“People with severe mental illness are two and a half times more likely to die prematurely from cancer than their peers. Their cancer is often diagnosed at an advanced stage, which limits the treatment options available to them.

Increasing early diagnosis, through screening, could help save lives from cancer, and reduce inequalities in cancer outcomes.”


Where do we go from here?

Researchers are now keen to learn more about why participation rates are lower for these individuals so that medical professionals can tailor support and make it easier for people with severe mental conditions to attend.

Researchers also found further inequalities in the data. Amongst adults with severe mental illness, people from some ethnic minority backgrounds were less likely to attend cancer screening appointments.

The data showed that participation in bowel cancer screening was lower among black adults with severe mental illness compared with white adults (35% versus 44%).

The same was true for black adults without severe mental illness compared to white adults (48% versus 62%).

Cancer Research UK’s executive director of policy and information, Dr Ian Walker, said,

“This research not only exposes concerning barriers to participating in cancer screening faced by people with severe mental illness, it also crucially shows where these disparities persist across ethnic minority groups and in more deprived areas.

“We need to delve further into this area of research to properly understand why these gaps exist. It’s vital that we work with individuals and communities to build targeted interventions that ensure everyone benefits equally from programmes that diagnose cancer early and, ultimately, save lives.”


In summary

We all know that early diagnosis and treatment is our best tool for improving cancer survival rates. However, many barriers prevent these from being possible.

For those suffering from mental health issues, while in the moment, dealing with those issues may seem paramount. But at the same time, ignoring routine cancer screening appointments can be a mistake that could cost lives.

What are your thoughts on the study findings? Tell us more in the comments. 


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