Women's perspectives on illness in being screened for cervical cancer

Lise Hounsgaard, Mikaela Augustussen, Helle Møller, Stephen K. Bradley, Suzanne Møller

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In Greenland, the incidence of cervical cancer caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) is 25 per 100,000 women; 2.5 times the Danish rate. In Greenland, the disease is most frequent among women aged 30–40. Systematic screening can identify women with cervical cell changes, which if untreated may cause cervical cancer. In 2007, less than 40% of eligible women in Greenland participated in screening.

To examine Greenlandic women's perception of disease, their understanding of the connection between HPV and cervical cancer, and the knowledge that they deem necessary to decide whether to participate in cervical cancer screening.

Study design
The methods used to perform this research were 2 focus-group interviews with 5 Danish-speaking women and 2 individual interviews with Greenlandic-speaking women. The analysis involved a phenomenological-hermeneutic approach with 3 levels of analysis: naive reading, structural analysis and critical interpretation.

These revealed that women were unprepared for screening results showing cervical cell changes, since they had no symptoms. When diagnosed, participants believed that they had early-stage cancer, leading to feelings of vulnerability and an increased need to care for themselves. Later on, an understanding of HPV as the basis for diagnosis and the realization that disease might not be accompanied by symptoms developed. The outcome for participants was a life experience, which they used to encourage others to participate in screening and to suggest ways that information about screening and HPV might reach a wider Greenlandic population.

Women living through the process of cervical disease, treatment and follow-up develop knowledge about HPV, cervical cell changes, cervical disease and their connection, which, if used to inform cervical screening programmes, will improve the quality of information about HPV, cervical cancer and screening participation. This includes that verbal and written information given at the point of screening and diagnosis needs to be complemented by visual imagery.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Circumpolar Health
Issue number72
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • cancer

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