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In Appalachia, Fatalistic Beliefs About Cancer Stall Preventive Steps, Study Says

Phalinn Ooi/Creative Commons

A fatalistic attitude toward cervical cancer may discourage Appalachian women from taking steps to prevent the disease, according to a recent study from University of Kentucky researchers.

And that perceived lack of control over health and cervical cancer leads many women in the region to be significantly less likely to complete all three doses of the HPV vaccine, the study said.

A team of researchers with the university's Rural Cancer Prevention Center did the study.

The findings could help health professionals have more constructive conversations with women in Appalachia about the importance of receiving the full HPV vaccine, said Robin Vanderpool, associate professor and lead author of the study.

“What are the barriers? Whether they are internal barriers or external barriers. What are the barriers to you finishing? If we start the series today, what are your barriers to finishing,” she said.

A lack of transportation, health insurance and knowledge about cervical cancer are factors, along with cost, in preventing women in Eastern Kentucky and the surround area from completing the HPV vaccine program, the study said.

Researchers gave 344 women ages 18 to 26 living in an eight-county region in Appalachia the first dosage of the HPV vaccine and then asked their views on cancer.

The researchers found that beliefs of the inevitability of developing cancer due to familial history, the perception that cancer is unavoidable, and that cancer is a death sentence.

Vanderpool said having negative beliefs about health outcomes can prevent people from getting screenings and taking part in other programs.

“You may be less likely to do some of this proactive, preventative health measures that we have available, or health activities like screening like vaccination," Vanderpool said.

The study concludes that identifying and intervening on individual-level barriers to vaccine series completion is necessary to improve HPV vaccination rates among young women.