Insights into the Experiences of Women with Physical Disability in Accessing Cancer Screening

Friday, 25 July 2014: 1:50 PM

Kath Peters, RN, BN (Hons), PhD
School of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Western Sydney, Penrith South DC NSW, Australia
Antoinette Cotton, RN, PhD
School of Nursing & Midwifery, University of Western Sydney, Penrith, Australia


Previous studies have identified that internationally women with physical disabilities have lower uptake rates of cancer screening than women without disability (Ahmed, Smith, Haber & Belcon, 2009; Peters, 2012). Decreased rates of breast and cervical cancer screening limits opportunity for early detection and treatment of such cancers and potentially leads to greater morbidity and mortality (AIHW, 2011).  This study aimed to explore the breast and cervical screening practices in a population of women in Australia with physical disabilities and the barriers and facilitators to these women accessing cancer screening.


 A concurrent mixed-methods approach was used to collect both survey and interview data. Survey data was analysed using descriptive statistics and audio recorded interviews were transcribed verbatim and thematically analysed.


Findings showed that issues related to cancer screening for women with disability are multifarious. Approximately 15% of participants had never had a Pap smear and almost 30% of participants had never had a mammogram. 35% of participants indicated that they had never received information about cancer screening, 60% revealed they had difficulties receiving health care or services from a health care professional. Among the most common reasons given for not having regular cancer screening were physical access issues, health professionals’ knowledge deficit, discomfort, and staff not being trained or available to assist women with a disability.


These findings provide valuable insights into the barriers and facilitators of cervical and breast cancer screening in women with physical disability and highlight practice issues in need of change to ensure increased screening uptake rates in this group. These insights have the potential to inform interventions that can be implemented by primary health care providers to increase the uptake of cancer screening by women with physical disabilities, and therefore decrease rates of morbidity and mortality in this group from breast and cervical cancers.