Living With Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia and Cancer

Posted: Friday, September 1st, 2023

Speaking Out

It has long been known that people with schizophrenia in particular and serious mental illness (SMI) in general will die at a much younger age than their colleagues in the general population and deaths from cancer form a large part of this disparity.  Although people with serious mental illness are no more likely to suffer from cancer they are more likely to die prematurely from it. Recently published research carried out by the British government agency, Public Health England suggested that “adults with SMI were 2.1 times more likely to die from cancer under the age of 75 than people without SMI, and that cancer was the leading cause of premature mortality among people with SMI,

Further research published recently on the Medscape platform has found that people with schizophrenia are less likely to participate in one of the government’s cancer screening programmes.  This study looked at participation by people with serious mental illness in three UK government cancer screening programmes: bowel, breast and cervical cancers.  In the bowel screening programme it found that only about 42% of people with SMI participated compared with about 59% of those without a diagnosis of SMI.  In the breast cancer programme the figures were 48% of those with SMI compared with 60% of those without and in the cervical screening programme the results were 64% of those with SMI compared with 69% of those without.  And in all three of those programmes participation was lowest in those people with schizophrenia.

The study concludes that much more research is needed to understand why people with serious mental ill health are less likely to participate in cancer screening programmes and specific action is needed to support people with schizophrenia.

This study, which was a large study using data from over one million people, was published in the British Journal of Cancer and was commissioned by the National Health Service of England.

It has long been known that people with schizophrenia are more likely to die prematurely from physical health conditions like cancer.  This research demonstrates that much greater awareness of the cancer risk is necessary amongst sufferers, carers and professionals alike who could all play their part in reducing this tragedy.  Some cancer screening programmes are provided in the UK by the NHS free of charge and in most cases the procedures are quick and painless.  We must all ensure that we make the fullest possible use of them.


Hicks R, 2023, Fewer people with severe mental illness attend cancer screenings, Medscape viewed on line 4/05/2023 at https://www.medscape.co.uk/viewarticle/less-people-severe-mental-illness-attend-cancer-screenings-2023a100096i. .

Kerrison RS et al, 2023, Inequalities in cancer screening participation between adults with and without severe mental illness. Results from a cross sectional analysis of primary care data on English screening programmes, Published in British Journal of Cancer 4th May 2023.

Public Health England, 2021, Severe mental Illness (SMI): inequalities in cancer screening uptake report. Viewed on line 12/07/2023 at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/severe-mental-illness-inequalities-in-cancer-screening-uptake/severe-mental-illness-smi-inequalities-in-cancer-screening-uptake-report.

Image: Image Point Fr on Shutterstock

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