Culture as a Tool to Decrease Cervical Cancer Screening Disparities

Academic Blog by: Riya Kumar

Riya KumarRiya Kumar is a junior from Troy, Michigan in the School of Public Health Community and Global Health B.A program. Her research interests primarily include community based participatory research to increase health equity for minority women.

Latina women experience the highest incidence and mortality rates for cervical cancer in the United States. However, they continue to have much lower rates of cervical cancer screening when compared to their White counterparts. Furthermore, the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) indicates that the disparities become more pronounced based on nativity. For example, 79% of U.S born women had a recent Pap smear compared to just 60% of foreign-born women who resided in the United States for less than ten years. Thus, foreign born Latina immigrants have even lower rates of screening when compared to U.S. born Latina women.

So why does this disparity exist? Foreign-born Latina immigrants experience greater barriers accessing health care and screening services than their US-born Latina counterparts. These barriers include, but are not limited to, a lack of health insurance, a lack of English proficiency, and a lack of knowledge on susceptibility. A study conducted in Alabama showed that over 60% of Latina immigrants did not perceive themselves as being susceptible to cervical cancer or did not even know they were susceptible in the first place. This proves that there is a substantial gap in the dissemination of information about the susceptibility Latina immigrants have to cervical cancer.

The evaluation of past interventions shows that successful interventions have a focus on health education and health promotion in the Latina immigrant community. Interventions that inform Latina immigrants about screening and prevention are crucial in increasing equity. These interventions have been conducted at the interpersonal level and are culturally conscious. Culturally relevant interventions allow for Latina immigrants to receive information that can be directly applied to their lives. While these interventions do not eliminate barriers such as access to care, or financial stress, equipping the women with potentially life-saving information in an understandable manner that considers cultural beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors can increase screening rates.

A curriculum to increase cervical cancer screening practices such as pap-smear, sexual risk reduction and STI prevention, in the Latina immigrant community is a step in the right direction, however, further steps need to be made. Culturally relevant health education interventions allow for critical information to be spread, but without equipping Latina immigrants with the resources to actually get screened, the information cannot be used and the inequity will continue to exist.

For the future, tackling the issue of cervical cancer by addressing primary and secondary cancer screening in the Latina immigrant community is a real solution. Educating the women on susceptibility and resources that are available is key as well. However, current and future public health professionals need to address systems of oppression in place that cannot be overcome through health promotion alone. This will help to decrease the burden of cervical cancer on the Latina immigrant community and will help to work towards equity.