Cervical cancer is the commonest cancer of women in Uganda. Over 80% of women diagnosed in Mulago national referral and teaching hospital, the biggest hospital in Uganda, have advanced disease. Pap smear screening, on opportunistic rather than systematic basis, is offered free in the gynaecological outpatients clinic and the postnatal/family planning clinics. Medical students in the third and final clerkships are expected to learn the techniques of screening. Objectives of this study were to describe knowledge on cervical cancer, attitudes and practices towards cervical cancer screening among the medical workers of Mulago hospital.
In a descriptive cross-sectional study, a weighted sample of 310 medical workers including nurses, doctors and final year medical students were interviewed using a self-administered questionnaire. We measured knowledge about cervical cancer: (risk factors, eligibility for screening and screening techniques), attitudes towards cervical cancer screening and practices regarding screening.
Response rate was 92% (285). Of these, 93% considered cancer of the cervix a public health problem and knowledge about Pap smear was 83% among respondents. Less than 40% knew risk factors for cervical cancer, eligibility for and screening interval. Of the female respondents, 65% didn't feel susceptible to cervical cancer and 81% had never been screened. Of the male respondents, only 26% had partners who had ever been screened. Only 14% of the final year medical students felt skilled enough to use a vaginal speculum and 87% had never performed a pap smear.
Despite knowledge of the gravity of cervical cancer and prevention by screening using a Pap smear, attitudes and practices towards screening were negative. The medical workers who should be responsible for opportunistic screening of women they care for are not keen on getting screened themselves. There is need to explain/understand the cause of these attitudes and practices and identify possible interventions to change them. Medical students leave medical school without adequate skills to be able to effectively screen women for cervical cancer wherever they go to practice. Medical students and nurses training curricula needs review to incorporate practical skills on cervical cancer screening.