Cancer Rates Lower For People With Learning Disabilities

Patients with learning disabilities are nearly a third less likely than the general population to suffer from cancer and coronary heart disease, according to a new study.

Research published in the British Journal of General Practice suggests the correlation could be due to the inability of people with learning disabilities to clearly articulate their conditions. The lack of communication could lead medical staff to misdiagnose these patients. Conversely, lower rates of alcohol consumption and smoking may positively contribute to these lower percentages of health issues.

Researchers also claim that patients with learning disabilities are more likely than the general public to suffer from mental health issues like mood disorders, schizophrenia and conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy and kidney disease.

"The low prevalence of coronary heart disease is surprising given the high prevalence of risk factors including diabetes, obesity, an underactive thyroid, chronic kidney disease and stroke," said Dr. Iain Carey of St George’s University of London.

Understanding the results

Researchers are concerned that the lower cancer rates could be due to late diagnosis or poor survival rates for people with learning disabilities.

The results of the study also revealed that people with learning disabilities had shorter consultations with their doctors and failed to remain with the same doctor over a long period of time. Researchers believe this could also impact cancer and coronary heart disease diagnosis in these patients.

"The high prevalence of epilepsy and severe mental health problems in people with a learning disability requires effective access to specialist advice," said Carey. "Continuity of care and longer appointment times are important potential improvements in primary care."

Source: St. George’s University of London

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