The Relationship Between Sexual Assault History and Cervical Cancer Screening Completion Among Women Veterans in the Veterans Health Administration

J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2022 Jul;31(7):1040-1047. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2021.0237. Epub 2022 Jan 18.


Background: Sexual assault affects one in three U.S. women and may have lifelong consequences for women's health, including potential barriers to completing cervical cancer screening and more than twofold higher cervical cancer risk. The objective of this study was to determine whether a history of sexual assault is associated with reduced cervical cancer screening completion among women Veterans. Materials and Methods: We analyzed data from a 2015 survey of women Veterans who use primary care or women's health services at 12 Veterans Health Administration facilities (VA's) in nine states. We linked survey responses with VA electronic health record data and used logistic regression to examine the association of lifetime sexual assault with cervical cancer screening completion within a guideline-concordant interval. Results: The sample included 1049 women, of whom 616 (58.7%) reported lifetime sexual assault. Women with a history of sexual assault were more likely to report a high level of distress related to pelvic examinations, and to report ever delaying a gynecologic examination due to distress. However, in the final adjusted model, lifetime sexual assault was not significantly associated with reduced odds of cervical cancer screening completion (OR 1.35, 95% CI 0.93-1.97). Conclusions: Contrary to our expectations, sexual assault was not significantly associated with gaps in cervical cancer screening completion. Three- to five-year screening intervals may provide sufficient time to complete screening, despite barriers. Trauma-sensitive care practices promoted in the VA may allow women to overcome the distress and discomfort of pelvic examinations to complete needed screening. (#NCT02039856).

Keywords: Veterans; cervical cancer screening; sexual assault.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Early Detection of Cancer
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Sex Offenses*
  • United States
  • United States Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms* / diagnosis
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms* / prevention & control
  • Veterans Health
  • Veterans*

Associated data