October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month 

by Teresa Anderson, MPH

Teresa Anderson, Prevention Coordinato
Teresa Anderson, Prevention Coordinato

There are over 3.1 million breast cancer survivors in the United States today, which includes women who have either completed treatment or are still undergoing treatment. Statistics show that a woman has approximately a 1 in 8 chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. Survival rates continue to grow because of advancements in treatment options and increased screening at earlier stages. Unfortunately, research shows that women with intellectual and developmental disabilities have higher mortality rates from breast cancer than the general public possibly due to lower rates of routine screening and opportunities for early detection.

The literature acknowledges there are several barriers to screening for women with IDD as well as the fact that some barriers are easier to address than others.  Some of the more significant barriers noted include: family perspectives on screening, limited knowledge or understanding of the mammogram process, limited knowledge or information about the importance of mammogram screening, feeling unprepared, behavioral challenges, limited appointment times, and the need for additional supports.

There are many strategies and model programs that exist to address identified barriers. For example, the North Carolina Office of Disability and Health partnered with The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to develop a curriculum designed to increase women’s knowledge and use of cancer screening services. It includes meeting 2 times a week for 11 weeks to discuss a variety of topics related to breast health, mammograms, preparing for mammograms and ultimately a field trip to the doctor’s office to see the equipment and get familiar with the exam room.  For more information on this curriculum visit:

One of the most important strategies to reducing disparities for people with IDD is inclusion in health promotion programs. This is critical to increasing awareness about the health disparities, in this case breast cancer screening, that people with IDD face.  In searching for information specific to breast cancer screening for women with IDD (it is worth noting I did not find anything related to breast cancer screening for men with IDD) I found limited information and resources. Even more disheartening was that after a couple hours of searching for promotional materials and images I did not find a single image of a woman with IDD in any of the materials for breast cancer screening.  Advocacy efforts for increasing breast cancer screening awareness among people with IDD need to include pushing for a strong presence in health promotion programs and materials.

For more information and resources on breast cancer screening visit:

American Association on Health and Disability

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

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