Objective: Previous research suggests that women with mental illness may be at increased risk for breast and cervical cancer. This qualitative study of patients and primary care and mental health providers explored challenges to accessing and providing breast and cervical cancer screening for women with mental illness.
Method: Key informant patient and provider participants were recruited from a community health setting and teaching hospital. Narrative data from 1) interviews with women in a community primary care setting (n = 16); 2) telephone interviews with women with mental illness (n = 16); and 3) focus groups with primary care providers (n = 9) and mental health providers (n = 26) were collected.
Results: Patient, provider, and system factors that may contribute to suboptimal cancer screening among women with mental illness were identified. Communication between primary care and mental health providers was noted as a key area for intervention to enhance screening. Barriers to and possibilities for a more proactive role for mental health providers were also considered.
Conclusions: Both patient and provider study participants emphasized the need to address communication gaps between primary care and mental health providers and to promote the active collaboration of mental health providers in preventive cancer screening for women with mental illness.