According to the American Cancer Society, over 10,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the United States every year. It is estimated that almost 4,000 women will die from this disease every year. Among the most common risk factors for cervical cancer are human papillomavirus (HPV) infection (the risk of acquiring is increased by intercourse at an early age, having many sexual partners, and having sex with uncircumcised males), smoking, HIV infection, Chlamydia infection, unhealthy diet, use of oral contraceptives, multiple pregnancies, and low socioeconomic status.
One of the most effective ways for women to avoid cervical cancer is to have a regular screening. This screening is done through the Papanicolaou Smear, also known as a Pap test or Pap smear. This simple test detects precancerous abnormalities in cells that can then be treated, allowing the patient to avoid developing cervical cancer.
Health disparities exist in the incidence and mortality rate of cervical cancer and in the use of screening services by women. According to the American Cancer Society, in 2000, 83.9 percent of Caucasian women 18 and over had a Pap test in the last three years, while 77.9 percent of Latina women had. The cervical cancer incidence rate for Caucasian women from 1996-2000 was 9.2 per 100,000 women and 16.8 per 100,000 for Latina women. The mortality rate was 2.7 per 100,000 for Caucasian women and 3.7 for Latina women.
A number of studies exist that have explored the lowered rates of Pap screening use among Latina women in the United States. These studies have utilized a variety of health behavior theories to explain and understand this health behavior. The following is a discussion of one of these studies.
Suarez, Nichols, and Brady (1996) also explored the effectiveness of social cognitive theory in their study, Use of Peer Role Models to Increase Pap Smear and Mammogram Screening in Mexican-American and Black Women. This study explored the effectiveness of the Su Vida, Su Salud program in Texas. This program aimed to increase cervical cancer screening rates using interventions based in social cognitive theory.
The Su Vida, Su Salud program incorporated the constructs of environment, behavioral capability, observational learning and self-efficacy. The environment was effected through media information and attention and door-to-door advice on the availability of screening services. Self-efficacy and behavioral capability were addressed through skill development via door-to-door advice and presentations about accessing screening services. The use of peer role models hoped to affect the observational learning of the women involved in the study.
The results of this study found that the Su Vida, Su Salud program had no significant effects on Pap test use or on attitudes and knowledge about the screening. This points to the facts that the constructs of social cognitive theory have little impact on program effectiveness in increasing Latina women’s probability to access cervical cancer screening services.
American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org
Suarez et al. Use of Peer Role Models to Increase Pap Smear and Mammogram Screening in Mexican-American and Black Women, American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 1993; 9; 290-296.