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The role of primary care professionals in women's experiences of cervical cancer screening: a qualitative study

By Natalie Armstrong, Veronica James and Mary Dixon-Woods


This is a pre-copy-editing, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in Family Practice following peer review. The definitive publisher-authenticated version Family practice (in press) is available online at: The UK Cervical Screening Programme, delivered mostly through primary care, commands impressive levels of public support. However, considerable evidence suggests that women find the experience of screening problematic. OBJECTIVE: To investigate this tension using women's accounts of cervical screening, with a view to informing practice to better meet their needs. METHODS: A qualitative interview study with 34 participants focussed on their experiences and understandings of cervical cancer screening in the UK. Analysis was based on the constant comparative method. RESULTS: The highly intimate and personal nature of the test is challenging, and many women report unsatisfactory experiences. Problematic issues include: embarrassment and discomfort (sometimes severe) in exposing an intimate and personal part of their body; surrendering control and finding the test painful, uncomfortable and personally threatening. Though there is an important role for primary health care professionals in easing discomfort and facilitating positive experiences, women often report feeling disappointed with how the procedure is conducted. Women suggest that practitioners' attempts to normalize the interaction and maintain a degree of detachment could have the perverse effect of making them feel more uncomfortable and that more personalization would be welcome. CONCLUSIONS: This work identifies the ways in which women may find personal engagement with cervical screening difficult and demonstrates the important role of primary care practitioners in contributing to women's experiences of the encounter. We draw on Erving Goffman's work on the 'interaction order' to explain some of the problems reported by women and to help inform good practice in primary care.Peer-reviewedPost-prin

Topics: Cervical cancer, health professional, health promotion, qualitative research, screening
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Year: 2011
DOI identifier: 10.1093/fampra
OAI identifier:

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