Sexually abused women much less likely to be screened for cervical cancer

October 1, 2012, British Medical Journal

Women who have been sexually abused as children or young adults are much less likely to get screened for cervical cancer than other women, indicates exploratory research published in the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care.

Figures published last year by the national NHS Screening Programme indicate that around one in five eligible had not been tested for the disease within the previous five years, as recommended.

Screening can help cut the risk of developing an invasive and potentially fatal cervical cancer. And a recent audit showed that only just over a quarter of such cases in England arose in women who had attended for regular checks as part of the national screening programme.

The research team analysed the responses of 135 women to a survey posted on the website of the British charity, the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC). Four respondents also took part in a discussion group early in 2011.

The women were asked for their views and of cervical screening, and what type of abuse they had endured.

Among those aged 24 to 65—the current age band for in England—three out of four (77.5%) said they had been screened at some point, and almost half had been screened within the previous five years.

But only just over four out of 10 (42%) of those aged 25 to 49 had been screened within the previous 3 years, in line with the current UK recommendation.

And one in four of this age group had not been screened for more than five years while one in 10 had not been screened at all.

Among the 124 women who responded to the open ended questions about what put them off screening, 32 said they had no of going or going again. Two said they would rather die than endure the procedure ever again.

Almost one in four (23%) made comments reflecting , and one in five (21%) said they found the procedure painful. And almost one in three (29%) said the procedure made them feel powerless, while 38% said it evoked similar feelings to those they experienced at the time of the abuse.

One in five highlighted issues relating to trust, safety and disclosure, while one in three made at least one comment relating to fear and anxiety.

One in eight also complained that few healthcare professionals understood the impact of sexual abuse on the ability to go through with the procedure and that the screening invitation letters contain no signposting to sources of information and support for those who might have been abused.

An accompanying editorial, written by NAPAC's training and development manager Sarah Kelly, points out that the charity receives around 350 calls/emails from adult survivors every month, two thirds of whom are women.

"Self worth, self esteem, and self concept....impact on how women access health services or care for and value themselves," writes Ms Kelly.

"Many of the female survivors we hear from, talk about their fears and anxieties when accessing services, particularly sexual health, gynaecology, and breast wellbeing," she says.

And she adds: "Many survivors are aware of the increased risk of not being screened and we repeatedly hear that some would rather deal with cervical cancer if it develops than face the experience of regular testing."

Explore further: Regular smear tests boost chances of cure from 66 percent to 92 percent

More information: Barriers to cervical screening in women who have experienced sexual abuse: an exploratory study 2012; 38: 214-20

Editorial: The effect of childhood sexual abuse on women's lives and their attitudes to cervical screening 2012; 38:1-2

Related Stories

Regular smear tests boost chances of cure from 66 percent to 92 percent

March 2, 2012
Women can boost their chances of surviving cervical cancer substantially through regular cervical screening, claims a research paper published today in the British Medical Journal.

HPV testing in screening program saves 3,500 women from unnecessary tests

September 28, 2011
Testing for the human papillomavirus (HPV) as part of cervical screening reduces the number of women unnecessarily going on for further tests by over a third, new research shows today.

Recommended for you

Boosting cancer therapy with cross-dressed immune cells

January 22, 2018
Researchers at EPFL have created artificial molecules that can help the immune system to recognize and attack cancer tumors. The study is published in Nature Methods.

Workouts may boost life span after breast cancer

January 22, 2018
(HealthDay)—Longer survival after breast cancer may be as simple as staying fit, new research shows.

Cancer patients who tell their life story find more peace, less depression

January 22, 2018
Fifteen years ago, University of Wisconsin–Madison researcher Meg Wise began interviewing cancer patients nearing the end of life about how they were living with their diagnosis. She was surprised to find that many asked ...

Single blood test screens for eight cancer types

January 18, 2018
Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center researchers developed a single blood test that screens for eight common cancer types and helps identify the location of the cancer.

Researchers find a way to 'starve' cancer

January 18, 2018
Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) have demonstrated for the first time that it is possible to starve a tumor and stop its growth with a newly discovered small compound that blocks uptake of the vital ...

How cancer metastasis happens: Researchers reveal a key mechanism

January 18, 2018
Cancer metastasis, the migration of cells from a primary tumor to form distant tumors in the body, can be triggered by a chronic leakage of DNA within tumor cells, according to a team led by Weill Cornell Medicine and Memorial ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.