In 2010, a study published in the Journal of Women’s Health1 revealed that women who have a disability are less likely to present for routine mammograms. Health screening in New Zealand is central to catching cancer early. New Zealand’s National Screening Unit offers the following routine procedures:
- Free breast cancer screening for women aged between 45 and 69
- Free cervical cancer screening for women aged between 20 and 70
- Currently there is no specific prostate cancer screening program, but it is something New Zealand’s National Screening Unit is continuously reviewing
Breast Cancer Screening
Routine mammograms are performed on women who are at risk of breast cancer. This is why you are usually only invited between the ages of 45 and 69. While you should still check your breasts each month for lumps, mammograms are useful for detecting small changes that you cannot feel. Your mammogram won’t prevent cancer from developing, but it does reduce your risk of dying from the disease by around one-third.
The barriers for breast cancer screening among disabled women are unclear, and until more qualitative research is carried out address concerns this will continue to be the case. However, one concern is that women may not want to attend due to accessibility issues. Making sure you can leave your home easily for screening is essential. You and your family can make this possible through the use of ramps. In addition, try not to worry about accessibility on the day. Letting the radiographer know about the disability in advance allows them to adapt the screening environment accordingly.
Cervical Cancer Screening
Cervical cancer screening between the ages of 20 and 70 detects small changes to the cervix that may indicate your cells are becoming cancerous. As it is one of the most preventable forms of cancer, attending your routine smears is a significant opportunity to ensure you do not develop the disease. As well as attending your routine smears, look out for common signs of cervical cancer. This includes bleeding between periods and after sexual intercourse. You should also look out for unusual discharge and pain in your pelvic area.
Reducing Your Risk of Cancer
Screening isn’t your only opportunity to reduce your risk of cancer. When it comes to breast cancer, one of the best forms of prevention is to lose weight. There are multiple ways you can exercise at home, including lifting weights and using the accessibility bars in your bathroom to perform chest presses.
Being obese is one of the primary risk factors for breast cancer. When it comes to weight loss, around 80% of the battle is fought in the kitchen. Exercise is essential, but without a balanced diet it is virtually useless. Enjoying cooking is sometimes challenging when you have a disability. However, there are ways for you to establish a good cooking routine. Making your kitchen accessible with low, shallow sides and using tools that enhancing accessibility is useful. If your disability causes fatigue, consider cooking in bulk or asking family members to help. You don’t have to turn yourself into a virtual nutritionist, but learning about foods that keep you satiated for longer and foods that contain hidden calories is also useful.
If you are struggling to attend routine cancer screening appointments due to challenges leaving the home and accessibility around the home, try speaking to an occupational therapist. He or she should be able to help you access financial resources for adapting your home. In addition, they can liaise with other medical professionals on your behalf to make the screening process easier. While your first screening appointment as a disabled person may be challenging, the more often you approach it the easier it will become.
1: Courtney-Long E., Armour B., Frammartino B., & Miller J. (2011). Factors associated with self-reported mammography use for women with and women without a disability. Journal of Women’s Health, 20:1279-1286.