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As the life expectancy of people with learning disabilities rises, so too do cancer prevalence rates in people with learning disabilities. Despite the efforts of government policies to ensure equal access to improve health screening, the uptake for breast mammography within this population still remains lower than that of the general population. The purpose of this study was to ascertain the knowledge of breast cancer among women with a learning disability and to explore their experiences of breast mammography.
A qualitative approach using four focus groups with women with learning disabilities was employed, and a semi-structured interview schedule aided the process.
Associated risks, preventative factors and signs and symptoms of breast cancer were extremely limited with their sources of knowledge primarily coming from carers or nursing staff. Positive attitudes towards breast mammography were reported; however, these women also described negative feelings of fear and anxiety, attributed to a lack of understanding about the screening process. Emotional support and information were seen to reduce negative feelings. A lack of information and embarrassment were identified as the main barriers to screening. Ongoing support from others such as family members and carers, accessible information and health promotion and education were considered to be main solutions for encouraging attendance for breast mammography.
This study highlights the need for health promotion and education for women with a learning disability, their family carers and staff working with this target group in order to enhance the knowledge and awareness of breast cancer and screening. This not only will aid in reducing the adverse affects of breast mammography but will ensure that informed decisions about breast screening are made. More accessible multiformat information for women with a learning disability is essential in order to facilitate health promotion and education.