History of Childhood Abuse and Risk for Cervical Cancer Among Women in Low-Income Areas

J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2019 Jan;28(1):23-29. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2018.6926. Epub 2018 Sep 28.


Purpose: The purpose of this study was to examine pathways through which childhood abuse increases the risk of cervical cancer, including smoking, stress, risky sexual behavior, and not having a Papanicolaou (Pap) test.

Materials and methods: This is a descriptive, correlational study. The sample included 410 women, recruited from a large, multisite women's health center that serves low-income communities in New Jersey. Data were analyzed using path models and conditional regression analysis.

Results: Overall, 15% and 12% of the women in the study reported history of physical and sexual childhood abuse, respectively. There was a significant association between child abuse history and failure to receive a Pap test (χ2 = 5.34, p = 0.021). History of childhood abuse was associated with 44% lower odds of having a Pap test. The findings indicate a significant association between child abuse history and cervical cancer risk (χ2 = 7.65, p = 0.006, Cramer's V = 0.138). History of childhood abuse was associated with 96% higher odds of being at risk of cervical cancer. Both physical and sexual abuses were associated with higher levels of smoking, risky sexual behavior, perceived stress, and cervical cancer risk. In the conditional regression analysis, the effect of risky sexual behavior on the likelihood of cervical cancer risk showed an increased risk with higher risky sexual behavior scores only for those with a history of childhood abuse.

Conclusion: Childhood abuse increases the risk of cervical cancer in adulthood, through failure to receive a Pap test and higher levels of smoking, perceived stress, and most importantly, risky sexual behavior. More importantly, the combination of childhood abuse and risky sexual behavior plays a greater role in increasing cervical cancer risk.

Keywords: cervical cancer; cervical cancer prevention; child physical abuse; child sexual abuse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Adult Survivors of Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • New Jersey / epidemiology
  • Papanicolaou Test / statistics & numerical data*
  • Poverty
  • Poverty Areas*
  • Risk Factors
  • Risk-Taking
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Vaginal Smears / statistics & numerical data*