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Women with learning disabilities are least likely to attend breast cancer screening – except in Cornwall

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: NHS Breast Screening Programme

This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Sharon Ashby, a screening liaison nurse, blogs about breast screening for women with learning disabilities. Sharon writes about its importance, how health and social care professionals, their families and carers can help, and what has been done in Cornwall to increase attendance rates.

Screening women with learning disabilities

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among females in the UK, yet women with a learning disability who are eligible for breast screening are the least likely to attend.

Recent data shows breast screening for eligible female patients has decreased across all age groups in both patients with and without a learning disability. However, females aged 65 to 69 with a learning disability saw the largest decrease, from 54.6% from 1 April 2014 to 31 March 2015 down to 52.3% from 1 April 2015 to 31 March 2016.

Deborah, a screening liaison nurse who works alongside me in Cornwall, said:

Feedback from women with learning disabilities, health and social care professionals and families and carers, indicates numerous reasons for low levels and a decreasing rate of uptake, including a lack of understand, embarrassment or fear.

Whatever the reason for non-attendance, all health and social care professionals, alongside families and carers of women with learning disabilities can play a vital part in helping address this recognised health inequality.

As part of the NHS England (South) breast screening awareness campaign, we created a short video to share our work in Cornwall. It includes tips on reasonable adjustments (changes to make things easier) which can make all the difference:

Carers and family members can also help women with learning disabilities understand why breast screening is important and attend their appointments. Share or read through an easy guide to breast screening or use this breast cancer and breast screening information. Also access leaflets which show you how to check your breasts and order free reminder stickers to put up in the shower.

All women aged 50 to 70 can have free breast screening but it is important to know that some younger women will be invited early.

There’s more information about breast cancer screening on NHS Choices.

Deborah Rees and Sharon Ashby

Deborah and Sharon are screening liaison nurses in Cornwall. Prior to this they were primary care liaison nurses.

In 2010 a gap in terms of screening programmes not reaching people with learning disabilities was recognised. Resource was put towards addressing this by creating the screening liaison nursing roles. These dedicated roles allow Deborah and Sharon to concentrate on the 5 adult screening programmes.

Deborah and Sharon are extremely passionate about reducing the inequalities experienced by people with learning disabilities. In the UK, women with learning disabilities are least likely to attend breast screening. This is not the case in Cornwall. Thanks to Deborah and Sharon, women with learning disabilities in Cornwall are going for breast screening more than other women.

PHE Screening blog

PHE Screening BLOG articles provide up to date news from all NHS screening programmes. You can register to receive updates direct to your inbox, so there’s no need to keep checking for new blog articles.

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