Fuzzy cognitive mapping with Inuit women: what needs to change to improve cervical cancer screening in Nunavik, northern Quebec?

BMC Health Serv Res. 2020 Jun 11;20(1):529. doi: 10.1186/s12913-020-05399-9.


Background: Among Canadian Inuit, cervical cancer incidence and mortality rates are up to three times higher than the Canadian average. Cervical cancer is preventable through regular screening which, in Quebec, is opportunistic and requires physical examination and Papanicolaou ("Pap") smears. Since Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the necessary cause of cervical cancer, HPV testing is a plausible screening alternative. HPV testing by self-sampling also addresses several barriers associated with physical examination and access to healthcare. In a participatory research paradigm, we worked with two communities of Nunavik to explore the possible implementation of HPV self-sampling.

Method: Key community stakeholders formed an Advisory Committee to guide direct discussions with Inuit women. We presented available facts around cervical cancer, HPV and the female anatomy, and used Fuzzy Cognitive Mapping to collate women's views. A thematic analysis summarized data, adding links and weights to represent the relationship of each factor on the outcome: screening for cervical cancer.

Results: According to the 27 Inuit women who participated, the most influential factor in using health services was the cultural awareness of the healthcare provider. A significant barrier to screening was patient lack of information. The principal vector of change - the factor most likely to influence other factors - was the means of communication between the healthcare provider and the patient: visual communication was told to be the most effective.

Conclusion: Fuzzy Cognitive Mapping is a practical tool for discussing possible health actions with stakeholders and to inform future research. The tool offers a visual aid for discussion across cultural and educational differences. It can help to build the partnerships that incorporate community voices into co-design of interventions that are relevant to and aligned with the needs of those who use them.

Keywords: Cervical cancer; Human papillomavirus; Indigenous health; Inuit; Participatory research; Screening.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cognition
  • Communication
  • Early Detection of Cancer / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Fuzzy Logic
  • Health Personnel / psychology
  • Humans
  • Inuit / psychology*
  • Inuit / statistics & numerical data
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Quebec
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / ethnology*