Cancer Screening Among Jail Inmates

Small studies have shown an increased burden of health problems among inmates compared to the rest of the population. This study examines jail inmates' knowledge of cancer screening tests, their frequency of screening and their willingness to undergo screening in jail. One hundred and thirty-three jail inmates at two San Francisco facilities participated in an interview process. Approximately half the participants were African American, 17 percent were white, 11 percent were Latino, and 9 percent reported multiple ethnicities.

The key findings were:

  • Among women 18 years and older, 90 percent had received a Papanicolaou (Pap) test within three years and 94 percent were willing to be screened in jail.
  • For women aged 40 years and older, 41 percent reported having had a mammogram within the last two years and 88 percent were willing to have one while incarcerated.
  • Seventy-eight percent of women identified breast examinations rather than mammograms as their means of screening.
  • Among men and women aged 50 years and older, 25 percent had knowledge of colon cancer screening, 31 percent were up-to-date and 69 percent were willing to be screened.
  • Increased knowledge about colon cancer screening was associated with being white and insured.
  • Jail inmates, particularly African Americans, had a lower frequency of colon cancer screening than the general population.

The study determined that jail may be an appropriate setting for cancer screening directed to persons at high risk and with poor outcomes for cancer.