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Better Pap Smear Follow-Up Needed Among Lower-Income Women

Disparities seen in screening rates, appropriate care in Canadian study

THURSDAY, Aug. 20 (HealthDay News) -- In the Canadian province of Ontario, fewer than half of women with abnormal Pap tests receive proper follow-up care and low-income women are less likely to be screened for cervical cancer than high-income women, a new study has found.

"Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer, yet in Ontario more than 1 million women have not been screened, and a disproportionate number of these women are living in lower-income communities," principal investigator Dr. Arlene Bierman, a physician at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, said in a news release from the hospital.

She and her colleagues found that less than 50 percent of women who had a Pap test that detected a low-grade abnormality received appropriate follow-up care within the recommended time period, including either a repeat test or a medical procedure called a colposcopy, which examines a woman's cervix and vagina. The low rate of follow-up in these women is cause for concern because they tend to be at greatest risk for eventually developing cervical cancer, the study authors noted.

The study also found that the overall rate of cervical cancer screening in Ontario was 69 percent, with screening rates of 61 percent for low-income women and 75 percent for high-income women.

"We need to make special efforts to reach women who are screened, but do not receive the necessary follow-up and may eventually fall through the cracks. To improve surveillance and treatment, we need a system that ensures all abnormal Pap tests are followed-up so that Ontario women can receive the best care possible," Bierman said in the news release.

The Project for an Ontario Women's Health Evidence-Based Report (POWER) study was a joint effort by St. Michael's Hospital and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about Pap tests.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: St. Michael's Hospital, news release, Aug. 20, 2009

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