Hospitalisation for cancer and co-morbidities among people with learning disability in Australia

Document Type

Journal Article




Faculty of Computing, Health and Science


School of Exercise, Biomedical and Health Science




Sullivan, S. G., & Hussain, R. (2008). Hospitalisation for cancer and co‐morbidities among people with learning disability in Australia. British Journal of Learning Disabilities, 36(3), 191-197. Available here


In Australia, general health and medical services are subsidised by the government. This includes care for people with disabilities, screening and diagnostic services for common diseases, including cancer, and care and treatment for various medical conditions. In Western Australia, the majority of state-provided health services are well documented in linkable databases. We have examined data from a large cohort of people receiving services for learning disability from the state and linked this with the state cancer registry and hospital records. While people with learning disability appear to be at similar risk for cancer, they may have poorer treatment outcomes as they already experience a range of health conditions which can exacerbate medical complications associated with treatment and/or other primary or secondary co-morbid conditions. Our results show that the mean number of hospital admissions were higher for the cancer group, even when adjustments were made for conditions such as childhood leukaemia and renal dialysis both of which often require frequent hospitalisations. Multivariate regression analyses showed that younger age, female sex and severe or unspecified level of disability were significant contributors to the frequency of hospital admissions. Qualitative information gleaned from detailed chart reviews showed that in addition to considerable morbidity, some patients were admitted repeatedly either because of lack of supportive environments and/or lack of compliance with treatment. Issues in providing appropriate support services for individuals and their carers are discussed.





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