Improving rates of cervical cancer screening and Pap smear follow-up for low-income women with limited health literacy

Cancer Invest. 2001;19(3):316-23. doi: 10.1081/cnv-100102558.


Adult literacy is an independent and important predictor of health behavior. In 1993, the National Adult Literacy Survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Education demonstrated that one-third of the U.S. population over age 16 (44 million adults) is functionally illiterate. Several studies link low health literacy to self-reported poor health status, poor health behavior, and inadequate knowledge about disease. Epidemiologic studies of cancer prevention have not detected strong racial and ethnic disparities in disease detection and progression, resulting in an emphasis on behavioral and intervention-based research. Low literacy presents a wide-reaching barrier to disease prevention that, unlike race/ethnicity, is potentially modifiable. Here, we explore the relationship between health literacy and health behaviors related to cervical cancer prevention in an effort to address concerns about low rates of screening and follow-up in vulnerable populations. Our goal is to improve our understanding of the health impact of low literacy among urban women and to inspire interventions that will promote disease prevention behaviors in this population, particularly with regard to cervical cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Policy
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening
  • Papanicolaou Test
  • Patient Compliance
  • Patient Education as Topic*
  • Poverty*
  • Preventive Medicine
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Vaginal Smears
  • Women's Health*