A new study by University of Michigan School of Public Health doctoral student Ms. Anna Gottschlich and professor of epidemiology Dr. Rafael Meza finds that indigenous Latin American women prefer home-tests for HPV and cervical cancer to pap smears.
[Photo: Dr. Rafael Meza (left) and Ms. Anna Gottschlich]
Cervical cancer, which is associated with the human papilloma virus (HPV), is one of the leading causes of death among women in Latin America, especially in indigenous communities where access to healthcare facilities and traditional screenings is limited. However, this type of cancer is very preventable if detected in time.
This study, published in the Journal of Global Oncology, worked with a population of women in Guatemala. Researchers first administered surveys to assess knowledge of HPV and its dangers, as well as willingness to use a home test versus a pap smear conducted at a healthcare facility.
212 women from the Mayan community of Santiago Atitlan aged 18-60 years responded to the survey, which found that only 15% knew about HPV. Most women (93%) wanted to learn more and said they were willing to collect samples using the home kits. After excluding pregnant and menstruating women, 89% of those interested proceeded with using the home-tests.
The vast majority of the participating women reported that they were both comfortable with the test and found it easy to use. All of the women said they preferred this at-home method to traditional pap smears. After samples were collected by the research team, they found that 17% of the participating women tested positive for one of the 13 strains of HPV associated with cervical cancer.
The wide-spread acceptability and willingness to use these home test kits is very encouraging to efforts to increase early detection of cancer among women in these populations. Follow-up research is now underway to compare how care is pursued among the women who tested positive for HPV to the care pursued after other types of screenings.
Dr. Meza says of the work: “We hope that our study, along with future evidence, will help local and regional authorities identify the best cervical cancer screening alternative for their own settings.”