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Women with disabilities are 36% less likely to participate in breast cancer screening and 25% less likely to take part in bowel cancer screening compared to women reporting no disabilities, according to a new paper published in the British Journal of Cancer by researchers from the Cancer Epidemiology Unit in the Nuffield Department of Population Health.

Over a fifth of nearly 500,000 women who were offered breast or bowel cancer screening reported some disability and difficulties with mobility were the most common. Women with two or more disabilities were less likely to take part in screening compared to women who had one disability, according to the Million Women Study.

Women with disabilities that affected eyesight, mobility and the ability to take care of themselves were the least likely to take part in cancer screening. Women who reported any disability and had no access to a car were more likely to miss breast screenings.

Dr Sarah Floud, lead researcher, said: “While taking part in screening is a personal choice, our research suggests that women with disabilities may not have equal access to screening programmes. This is despite the fact that all people of the relevant age groups are routinely invited for free cancer screening, and that the screening programmes offer special arrangements for people with disabilities.” 

Women were considered to have a disability if they reported difficulty walking up a flight of stairs and said their walking pace was slow or if they reported their hearing, eyesight or memory to be poor or had difficulty bathing or dressing. 

Dr Julie Sharp, Head of Health and Patient Information at Cancer Research UK, said: “This research highlights the various practical barriers that can prevent women with disabilities from taking part in screening.  Having a better understanding of their specific needs means that the design of screening programmes can be improved to ensure people with disabilities can take up invitations to screening if they choose.”