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Br J Gen Pract. 1998 Aug; 48(433): 1509–1514.
PMCID: PMC1313202

Screening for cervical cancer: a review of women's attitudes, knowledge, and behaviour.


The United Kingdom (UK) cervical screening programme has been successful in securing participation of a high proportion of targeted women, and has seen a fall in mortality rates of those suffering from cervical cancer. There remains, however, a significant proportion of unscreened women and, of women in whom an abnormality is detected, many will not attend for colposcopy. The present work reviews the psychological consequences of receiving an abnormal cervical smear result and of secondary screening and treatment, and examines reasons for women's non-participation in the screening programme. Psychological theories of screening behavior are used to elucidate women's reactions and to suggest methods of increasing participation, of improving the quality of the service, and of reducing women's anxiety. A literature search identified studies that examine factors influencing women's participation in the screening programme, their psychological reaction to the receipt of an abnormal cervical smear result, and experiences of colposcopy. Reasons for non-participation include administrative failures, unavailability of a female screener, inconvenient clinic times, lack of awareness of the test's indications and benefits, considering oneself not to be at risk of developing cervical cancer, and fear of embarrassment, pain, or the detection of cancer. The receipt of an abnormal result and referral for colposcopy cause high levels of distress owing to limited understanding of the meaning of the smear test; many women believe the test aims to detect existing cervical cancer. The quality of the cervical screening service can be enhanced by the provision of additional information, by improved quality of communication, and by consideration of women's health beliefs. This may result in increased participation in, and satisfaction with, the service.

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Selected References

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