Cervical cancer screening rates are much lower among women with severe mental illness than among other women, a new study finds.
“The results of this very large study indicate that we need to better prioritize cervical cancer screening for these high-risk women with severe mental illnesses,” said study senior author Dr. Christina Mangurian. She’s an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco.
Researchers reviewed 2010-11 California Medicaid data for the study. Of the women with severe mental illness, 42 percent had some form of schizophrenia. Almost a third of the women had major depression. Nearly one in five had bipolar disorder, and the rest had anxiety or another disorder.
The study showed that 20 percent of women with severe mental illness were screened for cervical cancer. But 42 percent of women in the general population received screening.
“The women were receiving services in a public health setting, but were not receiving preventive services as often as women in the general population,” Mangurian noted.
What adds to the concern is that women with severe mental health problems have a greater risk for cervical cancer. Higher rates of smoking and an increased number of sexual partners are among the reasons why, Mangurian said.
The researchers found a number of factors significantly linked to cervical cancer screening rates. These included age, race or ethnicity, specific mental health diagnosis, and use of primary care services, not just mental health services. Drug and alcohol use was not a factor.
Among women with severe mental illness, those aged 18 to 27 were 30 percent less likely than those aged 28 to 47 to be screened for cervical cancer. This finding mirrors age-difference rates in the general population, the researchers said.
The study was published online April 17 in the journal Psychiatric Services.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more on cervical cancer screening.