A GLASGOW researcher’s “vital” investigation into why only around a third of women with learning disabilities take up the opportunity to attend smear tests has been awarded almost £300,000 for a ground-breaking project.

Professor Katie Robb, who established the Cancer Behaviour Research Group at Glasgow University, has received a Cancer Research UK grant of £281,636 for the study, which also looks at breast and bowel cancer screening rates.

This week is Cervical Cancer Screening Awareness Week (June 17 to 23).

The Glasgow Times Don’t Fear the Smear campaign aims to tackle the low uptake of smear tests – which is currently just 65.4% - in the city.

(Image: Newsquest)

Each year in Scotland, 95 women die from cervical cancer, although the disease is largely preventable thanks to the HPV vaccine and screening.

Professor Robb explained: “The aim of the study is to understand why the uptake of cancer screening tests among those with learning disabilities is so low, and the barriers this vulnerable population faces.

“We are taking a co-design approach and working closely with people who have learning disabilities, here in Glasgow, and across the UK. We want to hear their views on what should be done to improve uptake, which is not often done.”

(Image: Gordon Terris/Newsquest)

Professor Robb and her team have already included around 100 people in the study, including people with intellectual disabilities, carers and health professionals.

She added: “Cancer screening is quite an abstract concept to discuss, especially for people who have not done screening before, so we are using a visual communication framework called Talking Mats, which uses pictures and symbols, to help improve communication.”

She added: “We are absolutely thrilled that Cancer Research UK has funded the project.

“People with learning disabilities are more likely to get a cancer diagnosis at a later stage, when it is harder to treat, so by increasing awareness of and access to screening, this study could help save lives.”

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Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: "Everyone should be able to share in the potentially life-saving benefits of cancer screening, regardless of who they are or where they are from.

"The work of Professor Robb and her team is vital in increasing access to cervical cancer screening to this particularly vulnerable group of people.”

She added: “We know the earlier the disease is diagnosed then the greater the chance of treatment being successful, so ensuring everyone eligible can access screening is vital.

"Finding ways to tackle cervical cancer has been a key priority for us and, thanks to the generosity of our funders and supporters, Cancer Research UK has been pivotal in recent decades in proving the value of cervical screening and in the development of the HPV vaccine which combined have saved thousands of lives.”