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Cancer-screening research makes a splash

June 19, 2009

KALAMAZOO--A Western Michigan University professor's work on why women fail to get cancer screenings is drawing the attention of scientific journals and Web sites as well as international news sites.

Dr. Kelly Ackerson, WMU assistant professor of nursing, conducted the research with Dr. Stephanie Preston, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. Their findings are published in the June issue of the United Kingdom-based Journal of Advanced Nursing and have been picked up by other science publications and Web sites, including scienceblog.com, researchgate.net, bio-medicine.org, Science Daily and Senior Journal. A story about their research also was picked up by United Press International.

The researchers found that fear plays a major role in whether women decide to go for cancer screening or not, but healthcare providers underestimate how much women need to know and wrongly assume that they will ask for information if they want it.

Ackerson and Preston reviewed 19 studies that between them explored the attitudes of 5,991 women toward breast and cervical cancer screening. The studies, which covered the period 1994 to 2008, included women of all ages, from 14 year-olds to women in their 80s.

"Our review showed that fear could motivate women to either seek screening or to avoid screening," Ackerson says. "Some women complied because they feared the disease and saw screening as routine care, but other women feared medical examinations, healthcare providers, tests and procedures and didn't seek screening if their health was good."

Information also was a problem.

"Lack of information was a big barrier," Ackerson says. "It was clear from our review that very few women understood that cervical smear testing aims to identify abnormal cells before they become malignant and that breast screening can detect cancer in the early stages when treatment is most effective."

Women also had misconceptions about breast and cervical cancer and who is at risk. Ackerson and Preston conclude that nurses should promote screening and educate women about it. They also encourage running public health messages to boost screening numbers.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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