Improve education, health equity to boost cervical cancer screening, survey finds

Education needs to improve for cervical cancer screening to help drive down cases of a tumor type that kills more than 340,000 people a year. That is a takeaway from a Harris Poll survey of women in the U.S., U.K. and Sweden that identified confusion about screening as a barrier to effective preventative care.

BD, which sells a test for the cancer-causing human papillomavirus (HPV), publicized the results of the survey. The poll found most women see cervical cancer screening as a key part of their health management, with the percentage ranging from 76% in the U.S. to 86% in Sweden, but their grasp of the specifics can be shaky.

Between 55% and 59% of women find the screening guidance confusing. In Sweden, 28% of women say they are knowledgeable about cervical cancer screening options. The figures are higher in the U.S. and U.K., 59% and 62%, respectively, but other responses show confusion is common in all the countries.

Many women, ranging from 46% in the U.K. to 73% in Sweden, believe Pap tests are the most accurate way to detect cervical cancer. In a statement, Jeff Andrews, BD’s vice president of medical affairs for integrated diagnostic solutions, said that belief is mistaken because “an HPV assay is more sensitive than Pap tests and can identify the potential for abnormalities to develop.” The U.K. screens for HPV. 

Andrews added that “knowledge about high-risk HPV types and cervical cancer screening can empower people with a cervix to take greater control of their own health.” Yet, the survey also suggests that some people may struggle to take control of their own health because of barriers to care. 

In the U.S., 27% of women have delayed gynecology visits because they lack an obstetrician-gynecologist and 19% have done so because they lack insurance coverage. The figures for the U.K. are 14% and 3%, respectively. BD sees self-collection for cervical cancer screening as a way to improve health equity and stop discomfort and embarrassment from delaying gynecology visits.

The company received a CE mark for HPV screening from at-home self-collected vaginal samples in 2021. Countries including Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Kenya, Australia and New Zealand now support self-collection. The FDA is yet to authorize self-collection for HPV testing, although other federal agencies are already anticipating an approval.