Using the word 'cancer' in communication about an abnormal Pap test: Finding common ground with patient-provider communication

Melissa A. Simon*, Ludmila Cofta-Woerpel, Veenu Randhawa, Priya John, Gregory Makoul, Bonnie Spring

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Objective: To investigate provider and patient views about communication regarding cervical cancer screening follow-up. Methods: Using qualitative analysis, we interviewed 20 providers and 10 patients from two urban clinics that serve low-income African American and Hispanic women. Semi-structured interviews and focus groups assessed familiarity with National Cancer Institute's Cancer Information Service (CIS) and reactions to a letter asking women with abnormal Pap test to telephone CIS. The letter suggested questions to ask prior to receiving follow-up. Results: No patient or provider was familiar with CIS. Providers but not patients expressed discomfort with use of the word 'cancer' in the letter and in CIS's name. Providers feared that reference to cancer would provoke fatalism and impede timely follow-up, whereas patients felt information about cancer risk was needed to prompt timely follow-up. Information providers found necessary to convey in order to accurately explain abnormal Pap tests surpassed patients' literacy levels. Conclusion: Qualitative data suggest important gaps in perspective between providers and patients. There is a need to bridge the gap and overcome communication challenges to promote timely medical follow-up and have better health outcomes. Practice implications: Implications and strategies for improving patient-provider education and communication about abnormal Pap test are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)106-112
Number of pages7
JournalPatient education and counseling
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 2010


  • Cervical cancer screening
  • Health disparities
  • Qualitative research
  • Women's health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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