New study aims to help physically disabled people gain better access to cervical screening

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Working to improve cancer detection

A team of researchers led by Keele University - comprising psychologists, GPs, and nurses - are leading a new study funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) to help physically disabled women and people with a cervix gain better access to cervical screening, in a bid to reduce cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer is caused by a common virus called human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes changes to the cells in the cervix which, if left untreated, can sometimes eventually turn into cancer.

Cervical screening - also known as the smear test - tests for HPV infection which can cause cervical cancer in some cases. Screening can therefore help clinicians to recommend treatment before the cells turn into cancer if HPV is detected. However, the screening procedure can be physically challenging for many women and people with a cervix, and for those with physical disabilities it can sometimes be impossible.

Improving access to screening

Misconceptions about disabled people, even among health professionals, can also make it harder to have cervical screening. There are more than 7 million disabled women in the UK, and research suggests that they may be likely to have a higher risk of delayed diagnosis and dying from cancer, in part due to lower screening uptake.

Overcoming these barriers would therefore ensure equal access to cervical cancer prevention, increase early detection of cervical cell changes, and reduce the number of deaths from cervical cancer, as well as the need for invasive treatment.

Conducted in collaboration with Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust and patient representatives, the researchers will conduct interviews and a survey with people that have physical disabilities and conditions that make cervical screening challenging, as well as interviewing GPs, nurses, and GP reception staff to understand the barriers posed by the whole process, and explore potential solutions.

"An overlooked issue"

Lead researcher Dr Sue Sherman, from Keele University's School of Psychology, said: "We are very grateful to have received funding for such an important and largely overlooked issue and we look forward to working with stakeholders to improve the cervical screening experience for physically disabled women and people with a cervix."

Everyone who is eligible for cervical screening should be able to access the test. Too often we hear from women who are unable to attend as a result of a disability or long term condition, and this should not be the case. We're thrilled to be teaming up with Keele University to help identify and address some of the barriers and stigmas that exist and ensure more women can reduce their risk of cervical cancer."

Samantha Dixon, Chief Executive, Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust

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