Research Stigma Reduction — 05 December 2014

New research discovers that women experiencing anxiety, depression, and other forms of mental illness are less likely to be screened for breast cancer.

The new U.K. study is published online in the British Journal of Psychiatry (BJPsych).

Experts say prior studies have shown people with mental illness experience a higher mortality rate due to cancer. Although the reason for this is not entirely known, many associate the prevalence of cancer to high rates of risk factors such as smoking.

In addition, it appears cancer is often detected later in those with mental illness. Previous research has shown that people with mental illness receive suboptimal medical care.

An important question is whether women with a mental illness are less likely to be screened for breast cancer than those who do not have mental health issues. Could the diagnosis of a mental health condition prejudice receipt of a screening mammogram?young female doctor

To find out more, researchers from the Universities of Leicester and Greenwich reviewed 24 publications reporting breast cancer screening practices in women with mental illness (around 700,000), and five studies investigating screening for those in distress but who had not been diagnosed with a mental illness (nearly 21,500).

Researchers found that there were significantly reduced rates of mammography screening in women with mental illness, depression, and severe mental illness such as schizophrenia.

The effect was not present in women with distress alone, suggesting distress was not the explanation.

Dr. Alex J Mitchell, a consultant psychiatrist in the Department of Cancer Studies, University of Leicester led the study.

“We have previously shown that there are inequalities in medical care for people who happen to have a mental health diagnosis. This is partly explained by poorer attendance but also partly explained by willingness of staff to treat a patient’s medical condition at the same time as a mental health condition,” said Mitchell.

“In this study, we found that mental ill health was linked with 45,000 missed screens which potentially could account for 90 avoidable deaths per annum in the UK alone. Clearly patients with mental illness should receive care that is at least comparable with care given to the general population. Every effort should be made to educate and support women with mental illness called for screening.”

This article first appeared on ‘Psych Central’ on 3 December 2014.


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