A large review has revealed that fear could motivate women to either seek or avoid cancer screening, and lack of information was a tremendous obstacle in overcoming reluctance to go for testing.

Nurse researcher Kelly Ackerson, PhD, MSN, BSN, and Stephanie Preston, PhD, reviewed 19 studies addressing the attitudes of women toward screenings for breast cancer and cervical cancer. The studies were conducted from 1994 to 2008 and included a total of 5991 women, who ranged in age from 14 to older than 80.

“Some women complied [with screening] because they feared the disease and saw screening as routine care, but other women feared medical examinations, healthcare providers, tests, and procedures, and didn’t seek screening if their health was good,” explained Dr Ackerson in a statement about the study results, published in the June issue of the UKbased Journal of Advanced Nursing. “Lack of information was a clear barrier: It was clear from our review that very few women understood that cervical smear testing aims to identify abnormal cells before they become malignant and that breast screening can detect cancer in the early stages when treatment is most effective.”

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According to Dr Ackerman—an assistant professor at Western Michigan University—the review also highlighted the fact that many women had misconceptions regarding breast and cervical cancers and who was at risk. “For example, some women felt they did not need breast or cervical screening after a certain age and some believed that they could not develop cervical cancer if they weren’t in a current sexual relationship.”

The review results inspired 3 key recommendations from the investigators, who believe nurses play a vital role in addressing women’s screening-related fears and lack of knowledge:
• Nurses should promote screening by educating women about the benefits of breast and cervical screening even when women do not ask for that information.
• Initiatives aimed at increasing uptake rates should focus on women’s fears about the procedure or a possible positive result.
• Public health messages need to specifically target women who do have access to healthcare but fail to undergo routine testing.