Smear tests for everyone: targeted health information resources for women with learning disabilities


In the UK each year 3,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and one third will die from the disease. However, it is a largely preventable cancer and the cervical screening programme saves 5,000 UK lives annually. But cervical screening attendance is decreasing year on year: challenges exist for women of different ages and from hard to reach groups, including those with learning disabilities. Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust has created two different, targeted free health promotion tools which are made for these women, their carers and healthcare professionals, and aim to help informed choice, reduce health inequalities and raise awareness of prevention. 


Every day eight women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and three die from the disease. Cervical cancer is largely preventable thanks to the NHS screening programme and HPV vaccination programme. Across England 73.5% of women attend screening, yet for women with learning disabilities, studies have shown that nationally, uptake drops significantly to 13-29%. Approximately 2% of England’s population have a learning disability with the number of people with learning disabilities projected to rise to between 10 and 14% by 2020. Yet people with learning disabilities are 45% less likely to be screened for cancer.

Our initial work with women with learning disabilities has shown that often they do not understand the reasons for screening, how it is performed or their entitlement to screening. Sometimes carers (and clinical staff) cannot understand the benefits or necessity of screening. 


To ensure that appropriate health information resources are available for women with learning disabilities, their carers and healthcare professionals about cervical screening. To reduce health inequalities and to work collaboratively with people and organisations who share our vision. To increase the uptake of cervical screening in women with mild and moderate learning disabilities living in South West England by distributing the film to GP practices and evaluating the project locally. 

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QiC Oncology Highly Commended 2016
Prevention and Early Diagnosis
Smear tests for everyone: targeted health information resources for women with learning disabilities
by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust and Public Health England


Claire Cohen

Job title:
Information and Education Manager
Place of work:
Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust
020 7250 8311

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