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A recent study explores the barriers to breast and cervical cancer screening and potential interventions to increase participation among women in opioid substitution treatment, shedding light on the unique challenges these women face in accessing regular breast and cervical cancer screenings.

  • Women with current or past drug use are at greater risk of poor outcomes from breast and cervical cancer due to a variety of barriers to regular screening.
  • A recent qualitative study identified these barriers and suggested interventions for improved screening participation.
  • Participants proposed moral and practical support, specialized screening services, and enhanced invitation procedures as potential interventions.
  • The findings provide valuable insights but need further validation through larger, quantitative studies.

Breast and cervical cancer risks are notably higher among women who use or have used drugs (WWUD). Studies show that women with a history of drug use are more prone to these cancers and have higher mortality rates. This disparity highlights the need for regular cancer screenings in this group, according to a study published in the International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-Being.

Barriers to Screening

The study, conducted at an opioid substitution treatment (OST) clinic in Malmö, Sweden, involved focus group interviews to understand the barriers these women face in accessing regular screening services. 

Among the barriers identified were the perceived need for screening, opportunities to access these services, and several factors specific to WWUD, such as a fear of knowing their cancer status, feelings of unworthiness, and the challenges associated with managing a drug dependence, which often made screening less of a priority. Additionally, unstable lifestyles, difficulty comprehending healthcare information, and anticipated stigma in healthcare encounters were among the other barriers identified.

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Suggested Interventions

The study participants proposed several interventions that could improve screening participation among WWUD. These included:

  1. Moral and practical support: could help mitigate the emotional challenges and stigma associated with accessing healthcare services.
  2. Specialized delivery of screening services: could involve integrating screening services within existing treatment programs or developing specialized services to cater to WWUD specifically.
  3. Enhanced invitation procedures: could increase participation rates by using more effective ways to send screening invitations, such as brightly colored envelopes or the use of email or text messages.

Future Research and Conclusions

While the study findings provide valuable insights into the experiences of WWUD with breast and cervical cancer screening, they need to be evaluated in larger-scale, quantitative studies. The relative significance of different barriers to screening among WWUD, as well as the effectiveness of the proposed interventions, remains to be determined. This research sets the stage for further studies addressing screening compliance, barriers, and facilitators among WWUD.


Garpenhag, L., & Dahlman, D. (2023). Screening for breast and cervical cancer among OST patients: a qualitative study of barriers and suggested interventions to increase participation. International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being, 18(1). https://doi.org/10.1080/17482631.2023.2175767