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Keywords:

  • schizophrenia;
  • health care disparities;
  • cancer;
  • treatment;
  • outcomes

Individuals with schizophrenia are a vulnerable population that has been relatively neglected in health disparities research. Despite having an equivalent risk of developing most cancers, patients with schizophrenia are more likely to die of cancer than the general population. Cancer care disparities are likely the result of patient-, provider-, and systems-level factors and influenced by the pervasive stigma of mental illness. Individuals with schizophrenia have higher rates of health behaviors linked with cancer mortality including cigarette smoking. They also have significant medical comorbidity, are less likely to have up-to-date cancer screening, and may present at more advanced stages of illness. Patients with schizophrenia may be less likely to receive chemotherapy or radiotherapy, have more postoperative complications, and have less access to palliative care. However, opportunities exist for the interdisciplinary team, including medical, surgical, and radiation oncologists; psychiatrists; and primary care physicians, to intervene throughout the continuum of cancer care to promote survival and quality of life. This review summarizes data on overall and cancer-specific mortality for individuals with schizophrenia and reviews specific disparities across the cancer care continuum of screening, diagnosis, treatment, and end-of-life care. Using a case, the authors illustrate clinical challenges for this population including communication, informed consent, and risk of suicide, and provide suggestions for care. Finally, recommendations for research to address the disparities in cancer care for individuals with schizophrenia are discussed. Despite significant challenges, with collaboration between oncology and mental health teams, individuals with schizophrenia can receive high-quality cancer care. Cancer 2014;120:323–334. © 2013 American Cancer Society.