Discussing cervical screening with your patients

Research conducted by the NSW Cervical Screening Program shows that many women are embarrassed to discuss screening with their doctors. It’s important that you, as a health professional, raise the issue of testing and emphasise its success rate in helping Australian women avoid cervical cancer.

Formative research results

The research, which included interviews with large numbers of women across all age groups and backgrounds, indicates that while the topic may be embarrassing, most women want to know more about screening and the benefits for their health. However, almost 43% of women are not having Pap tests as regularly as they should.

As a doctor, nurse or community health worker, it’s important to recognise that screening is a potentially embarrassing topic, especially for younger women and for women from some cultural backgrounds, and to discuss it sensitively. The research found that many women mistakenly believe that cervical cancer is related to promiscuity and so is not a disease they need to worry about.

Your role

Your role should include informing your patients about cervical cancer and the risk factors. You should encourage them to express their embarrassment or concern and ask questions about the test, results and other steps. For women who may be anxious, it is important to explain the procedure to them and discuss options for making the test more comfortable, such as bringing a friend or family member or offering a sheet to cover themselves with. It is your role to ensure women are both physically and psychologically comfortable at all times during their appointment.

They should also be encouraged to visit another clinic or health centre if they feel uncomfortable having the test performed by their regular GP or by a male.

Sharing your screening success stories

You and your patients can also promote screening by sharing your stories of how screening has helped avoid cancer.

As a provider, you can become a program ‘champion’ who explains the benefits of screening and effective ways to support patients during testing and when results arrive.

You can also encourage any patients to share stories about how screening in general, or aspects of the program, have helped them recognise the need for regular tests in preventing cervical cancer. To read the stories of NSW women, or to share a story, visit our ‘Your Stories’ section. 

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