• Pap smear testing;
  • cervical cancer;
  • avoidance;
  • personal influences


Objective: To explore personal influencing factors that contribute to Papanicolaou (Pap smear) testing in African American women who do (routine-use group) and do not (non-routine-use group) obtain routine testing.

Design: Qualitative using the interaction model of client health behavior.

Setting: Community programs, homes, and churches.

Participants: Twenty four African American women aged 19 to 60.

Methods: Face-to-face interviews. Data were analyzed using a constant comparison approach.

Results: Routine-use group was socially influenced to value preventive health care while the non-routine-use group was not. Previous health care experiences with having a Pap smear and pelvic exam were positive for routine-use group and negative for non-routine-use group. Cognitively, both groups believed Pap smears tested for cancer and sexually transmitted diseases. Vulnerability to cervical cancer was thought to run in families; participants believed they were either safe from risk or hoped that the odds were in their favor. In addition, there was a link between avoiding routine preventive care and a trauma history (sexual, physical, medical), eliciting negative perceptions towards Pap smears and pelvic exams.

Conclusion: Differences and similarities in personal influencing factors associated with cervical cancer screening were found in the two groups. Further research is needed to explore these differences and similarities because they may contribute to the reason that African American women have a greater mortality rate from cervical cancer than White women.