Background: The decline in death rates from cervical cancer in the United States has been widely attributed to the use of Papanicolaou (Pap) smears for early detection of cervical cancer.
Methods: Pap smear screening rates, beliefs about appropriate screening intervals and factors affecting screening were examined using 1987 National Health Interview Survey data.
Results: Results indicate that through age 69, Blacks are screened at similar or higher rates than Whites. Hispanics, particularly those speaking only or mostly Spanish, are least likely to have received a Pap smear within the last three years. Of women who had never heard of or never had a Pap smear, nearly 80 percent reported contact with a medical practitioner in the past two years, while more than 90 percent reported a contact in the past five years. Overall, the most frequently reported reason for not having a recent Pap smear was procrastinating or not believing it was necessary.
Conclusions: Thus, in developing screening programs, Hispanics, particularly Spanish speakers, must be targeted. In addition, educational programs should target unscreened women who forego the test due to underestimating its importance, procrastination, or because their medical care provider did not suggest the procedure. Women must be intensively educated that Pap smears should be scheduled routinely to detect asymptomatic cervical cancer.