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Breast Cancer Screening Less Likely Among Mentally Ill: Study

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THURSDAY, Dec. 4, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Women with a mental illness appear to be less likely to be screened for breast cancer, a new study suggests.

"In this study we found that mental ill health was linked with 45,000 missed screens, which potentially could account for 90 avoidable deaths [a year] in the United Kingdom alone," study leader Dr. Alex Mitchell, a consultant psychiatrist in the department of cancer studies at the University of Leicester in England, said in a university news release.

"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," Mitchell said.

The study included information on almost 700,000 women with mental illness. Conditions included depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and other types of mental illness, according to the researchers. They then compared that information to data on almost 21,500 women without mental illness.

The women with mental illness were much less likely than those without mental illness to undergo mammography screening for breast cancer, the investigators found.

The findings were released online Dec. 1 in the journal BJPsych.

"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," Mitchell said.

Previous studies have shown that people with mental illness have higher cancer death rates and also have higher rates of cancer risk factors such as smoking. Their cancers tend to be detected at a later stage than in people without mental illness, the study authors noted.

In addition, prior research has also shown that people with mental illness receive poorer quality medical care than those without mental illness, the authors said.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about breast cancer screening.

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