Americans With Visual Impairment Are Less Likely to Seek Cancer Screenings

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Cancer screenings are capable of helping reduce morbidity and mortality in older adults, according to researchers. For this reason, public health initiatives to encourage older adults to seek preventative services are already in place across the country. However, a study in JAMA Ophthalmology suggests, older adults who are visually impaired may be less likely to seek preventative cancer care than their unimpaired peers. The study focused on Americans 50 years and older and examined the association between self-reported visual impairment and the likelihood of seeking preventative care.

Researchers used the responses from the 2015 and 2018 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) and the 2016 and 2018 Behavioral Risk Surveillance System (BRFSS) to conduct a cross-sectional survey that examined self-reports of serious visual impairment and preventative care services in respondents 50 years and older. The researchers honed in on 4 specific points of preventative care. They included breast cancer screenings (for females between ages 50 and 75 years), colon cancer screenings (for participants between 50 and 74 years), influenza vaccinations and pneumococcal vaccinations (for adults older than 65 years). Of those surveyed, between 14.3% and 16.3% reported a visual impairment.

The results revealed that older adults who self-reported visual impairment were less likely to report to breast and colon cancer screenings compared with their peers who did not report a visual impairment. With regards to breast cancer, 72.3% of participants between ages 50 and 74 years reported receiving screening. Colon cancer screenings were recorded at 55.4% of participants. The investigators explained that the proportion of cancer screenings was lower for those with vision impairment than those without (difference in proportions for breast cancer screening, −5.02%; 95% CI, −8.14 to −2.26%; P <.001; difference in proportions for colon cancer screening, −3.67%; 95% CI, −6.20 to −1.13%; P =.002).   

However, visually impaired adults were just as likely to report for vaccinations, both pneumococcal and influenza compared with non-visually participants.

This data is consistent with some prior studies that have shown a decrease in preventative care-seeking behavior among older adults that have reported sensory impairments, according to the study. The investigators advised that clinicians maintain awareness that their visually impaired patients are less likely to take advantage of cancer-related preventative care and to counsel their patients appropriately.


Assi L, Varadaraj V, Shakarchi A, et al. Association of vision impairment with preventive care use among older adults in the United States. JAMA Ophthalmol.  Published online October 29, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2020.4524