Women with mental illness are twice as likely to develop cervical cancer as they are less likely to attend smear tests, a new study shows.

The observational study at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, published in scalpelincludes more than four million women born between 1940 and 1995.

The researchers compared women who had been diagnosed by a professional with a mental illness, neuropsychiatric disability, or substance abuse with women without these diagnoses.

Their risk of cervical cancer and precancerous cervical lesions was then calculated, as well as their participation in screening programmes.

“Our study identified a high-risk group that needs more attention if we are successful in eliminating cervical cancer,” says Kejia Hu, one of the study’s first authors, Kejia Hu, a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Environmental Medicine at Karolinska Institutet.

She added that the results indicate that women with these diagnoses “rarely participate in screening programs at the same time, as the incidence of cervical lesions is high.”

“And so we found that they had twice the risk of developing cervical cancer.”

A high risk was noted for all diagnoses – but the greatest association was noted for drug use.

According to the researchers, women with mental illness should be made aware of the need to attend gynecological examinations.

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“It will reduce the risk of cancer,” said Karin Sundstrom, senior researcher in the Department of Laboratory Medicine, Karolinska Institutet.

“Similarly, if healthcare professionals were more aware of the cancer risks of these patients, they could ramp up preventive measures and look at how to deliver them to potentially underserved patients.”

This comes after the World Health Organization approved a global strategy to eliminate cervical cancer as a women’s health problem in May 2020.

Part of the strategy is the requirement that 70% of women be screened for the disease at least once before the age of 35 and twice before the age of 45.

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