The number of women screened for cervical cancer in the United States declined between 2005 and 2019 with lack of knowledge about the need for screening being cited as the most common reason for not receiving up-to-date screening. These are the results of a population-based, cross-sectional study conducted by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and were published online in.
“The fact that this reason increased over time across most sociodemographic groups suggests a need for interventions targeting screening awareness for all women,” lead author Ryan Suk, PhD, MS, from the University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston, and colleagues wrote.
Between 2005 and 2019, the researchers evaluated data from 20,557 women (weighted, 113.1 million women) included in the U.S. National Health Interview Survey. The cohort included women aged 21-65 years without previous hysterectomy and included data on sociodemographic factors such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, health insurance type, and rurality of residence.
Dr. Suk and colleagues found that the proportion of women without current screening increased from 2005 to 2019 (from 14.4% to 23.0%; P < .001) and that a higher proportion of those women were in the 21- to 29-year age group (weighted, 29.1%), compared with women in the 30- to 65-year age group (weighted, 21.1%; P < .001). Regardless of age, not knowing that screening was indicated was the most common reason cited for not having up-to-date screening.
Sociodemographic factors influence on rates and reasons for overdue screening
Based on weighted population estimates, 6.1% of women included were Asian, 17.2% were Hispanic, 13.1% were non-Hispanic Black, 61% were non-Hispanic White, and 2.7% were other races and/or ethnicities.
Dr. Suk and colleagues found that Asian women had the highest rates of overdue screening, compared with non-Hispanic White women, who had the lowest rates (weighted, 31.4% vs. 20.1%, respectively). The authors also found that reasons for overdue screening varied by sociodemographic factors. For example, while both Asian and Hispanic women cited lack of knowledge as a barrier to routine screening, Asian women were more likely to also report lack of recommendation from a health care professional as a barrier while Hispanic women were more likely to also report lack of access as a barrier to timely screening.
Over the 14-year study period, higher rates of overdue screening were also noted among those identifying as LGBTQ+ versus heterosexual (32.0% vs. 22.2%; P < .001), those with no insurance versus private insurance (41.7% vs. 18.1%; P < .001), and those living in rural versus urban areas (26.2% vs. 22.6%; P = .04).
For the study, guideline-concordant, up-to-date screening in 2005 was defined as screening every 3 years for women aged 21-65 years based on USPSTF guidelines and clinical recommendations. For 2019, up-to-date screening was defined as screening every 3 years with a Papanicolaou (Pap smear) test alone for women aged 21-29 years and screening every 3 years with a Pap smear alone or every 5 years with high-risk human papillomavirus testing or cotesting for women aged 30-65 years.
Dr. Suk and colleagues suggested that guideline updates over the study period could have led to uncertainty regarding appropriate timing and recommended screening intervals, which in turn, may have played a role in decreased cancer screening recommendations.
“Studies have suggested that changing guidelines may produce an increase in both overscreening and underscreening but those already at higher risk of cervical cancer may be most susceptible to underscreening,” wrote the authors.
In an interview, Ruchi Garg, MD, from Mid Atlantic Gynecologic Oncology and Pelvic Surgery Associates, Fairfax, Va., commented: “I think it has been hard to keep up with the guidelines changing so frequently. Furthermore it’s not clearly delineated (or at least there seems to be confusion or extrapolation) that the guidelines are just for Pap smear and that it doesn’t translate into a well woman checkup/pelvic exam; [however], if physicians continue to tell the patients to come in every year, then there won’t be so much underscreening since the physicians/providers will be able to keep track of when the Pap smears need to get done.”
Similar to the study authors, Dr. Garg also suggested that community lectures and public health announcements, particularly when guidelines are updated, will be helpful in enhancing patient education and reducing the rate of this preventable cancer.
The study authors and commentator disclosed no relevant financial relationships.