Women with disabilities more at risk of breast cancer

22 July 2005

The recent diagnosis of entertainer Kylie Minogue with breast cancer has drawn public attention to the disease which has been described as a ‘worldwide epidemic’.*

The statistics are stark. Australian women have one chance in 11 of contracting breast cancer and in 2002 more Australian women died of breast cancer than from any other form of cancer. Governments around the world including Australia have introduced free breast screening programs in an attempt to reduce this appalling death toll.

Women with disabilities however may be more at risk of dying from breast cancer due to having greater difficulty accessing mammography screening services.

A new project at the University of Sydney aims to identify the specific barriers to breast screening for women with disabilities and to devise ways to overcome them. Researchers at the University of Sydney Faculty of Health Sciences have teamed with BreastScreen NSW to interview as many women with disabilities as possible about their experiences of breast screening programs and the difficulties they have faced.

Project manager Dr Louella McCarthy, of the Australian Family and Disabilities Studies Research Collaboration based at the University of Sydney’s Cumberland Campus said the team is seeking volunteers for the project which is being funded by the National Breast Cancer Foundation. All interviews will be strictly confidential and women can be interviewed at home or wherever they are most comfortable.

One woman with personal experience of the obstacles in accessing breast screening services is Cheryl Morgan, 53, of Beacon Hill who has cerebral palsy (CP) and uses a wheelchair.  Morgan says women with CP appear ‘frighteningly often’ in breast cancer mortality statistics. A recent study from California shows that women with CP are three times more likely to die from breast cancer than women without CP, possibly due to communication problems and less regular screening.*

Morgan, who volunteers at the NSW Spastic Centre says a number of her friends have died from breast cancer after late diagnosis.

If you are interested in being part of the mammography screening project or know someone who could participate please contact Dr Louella McCarthy on (02) 9351 9205 (w) or email

1.* International Agency for Research on Cancer [IARC], World Cancer Report, 2003, WHO, Geneva, 2003.
2.* Strauss, D., W. Cable and R. Shavelle (1999). "Causes of excess mortality in cerebral palsy." Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology 41: 580-585.

Media inquiries or to arrange interviews: Virginia Gawler (02) 9351 2261 or
 mobile: 0423 782 603