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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Understanding cervical cancer screening among lesbians: a national survey

J Kathleen Tracy*, Nicholas H Schluterman and Deborah R Greenberg

Author Affiliations

Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Maryland School of Medicine, 10 South Pine Street, MSTF 334-F, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:442  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-442

Published: 4 May 2013

Abstract

Background

Lesbians have low rates of cervical cancer screening, even though they are at risk of developing the disease. The aim of this study was to examine cervical cancer screening behaviors in a national sample of lesbians.

Methods

A standardized internet survey was sent to 3,000 self-identified lesbians to assess cervical cancer screening behaviors and barriers to screening. The sample consisted of 1,006 respondents.

Results

Sixty-two percent of the weighted sample of respondents were routine screeners. Lack of a physician referral (17.5%) and lack of a physician (17.3%) were the most commonly-cited top reasons for lack of screening. Adjusting for age, education, relationship status, employments status, and insurance status, women who had disclosed their sexual orientation to their primary care physician (adjusted odds ratio [OR] 2.84 [95% confidence interval 1.82-4.45]) or gynecologist (OR 2.30 [1.33-3.96]) had greater odds of routine screening than those who did not. Those who knew that lack of Pap testing is a risk factor for cervical cancer were also more likely to be routine screeners (OR 1.95 [1.30-2.91]), although no association with screening was apparent for women who had more knowledge of general cervical cancer risk factors. Physician recommendation appeared to be a potent determinant of regular screening behavior. Routine screeners perceived more benefits and fewer barriers to screening, as well as higher susceptibility to cervical cancer.

Conclusions

Some women who identify as lesbian are at a potentially elevated risk of cervical cancer because they are not routinely screened. Evidence-based interventions should be developed to address critical health beliefs that undermine participation in screening. Given the value placed on physician recommendation, patient-provider communication may serve as the optimal focus of effective intervention.

Keywords:
Homosexuality; Female; Papanicolaou test; Reproductive health; Health behavior