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Beliefs about the causes of cervical cancer in Botswana: implications for nursing


Ditsapelo M. McFarland, School of Nursing, University of Botswana, P. O. Box 402957, Gaborone, Botswana; Tel: 267-3552369; Fax: 267-3974538; E-mail: and


Background:  Cervical cancer is the most common cause of cancer mortality and morbidity for women in Botswana. Yet, little is known about what women believe to be the causes of the disease.

Aim:  This paper presents data on factors women in Botswana believe are responsible for the high incidence of cervical cancer in their country. Data were part of a larger study that explored knowledge and perceptions about cervical cancer and Pap smear screening from the perspectives of the clients and the healthcare providers.

Methods:  The study that generated the data included 30 women of all socio-economic levels, recruited by network sampling. The women's ages ranged from 31 to 54 years. Demographic data were analysed descriptively. Individualized interview data were content-analysed.

Findings:  The identified causes of cervical cancer were classified as cervical irritants and non-irritants. The most commonly cited cervical irritants were vaginally inserted chemical agents and traditional medicine.

Discussions:  Participants identified vaginally inserted chemical substances and traditional medicines as possible explanations for the high incidence of cervical cancer in Botswana. They reported that women used these substances for sexual and hygienic purposes. Although these factors are believed to be the causes of cervical cancer and have not yet been medically acknowledged, verbal reports suggest that their use is problematic.

Conclusion:  There is a need for health education and for further research to affirm women's beliefs about the harmful effects of intravaginal agents.

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