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"It is big because it's ruining the lives of many people in Malawi": Women's attitudes and beliefs about cervical cancer.

  • Author(s): Moucheraud, Corrina;
  • Kawale, Paul;
  • Kafwafwa, Savel;
  • Bastani, Roshan;
  • Hoffman, Risa M
  • et al.

Adoption of routine cervical cancer screening in Malawi is very low, even though it has the highest cervical cancer burden in the world. We performed a multi-level assessment of Malawian women's knowledge and perceptions of cervical cancer risk and screening. Using the Multi-Level Health Outcomes Framework, we conducted interviews with 60 adult Malawian women aged 18-62 at facilities with cervical cancer screening. Eligible participants were recruited regardless of HIV status or history of screening, and asked about their experiences with cervical cancer disease and screening. Interviews were audio recorded and a theory-informed codebook was developed. Analysis focused on thematic differences across groups by age, HIV status, and screening history. Half of the sample (n = 30) had either never been screened for cervical cancer or were at the facility for their first-ever screen. Most women said that cervical cancer is dangerous, and many knew someone affected. Many women spoke about the importance of screening for prevention of cancer. Risk factors were generally well-understood, including increased risk with HIV, although this was misunderstood by some HIV-negative women to mean they were not at risk. Social networks were identified as a key determinant of screening, and gender issues were likewise highly salient. Despite high knowledge levels about cervical cancer, there remain significant challenges to improving screening, including interpersonal and system-level barriers. Future work should strengthen service delivery, target social networks and intimate partners, and develop targeted communication strategies for HIV-positive and -negative groups, especially in high-burden settings.

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