Zambian Women’s Experiences and Understanding of Cervical Cancer: A Qualitative Study

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Abstract

Objective

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in Zambian women, and approximately 28% of all patients with cancer seen at the Cancer Diseases Hospital in Lusaka experience this disease. Our objective was to gain insight into the knowledge, understanding, and experiences of women treated for cervical cancer at the specific hospital.

Methods

We selected a qualitative research design and descriptive phenomenological approach for the study. Twenty-one (n = 21) semistructured interviews directed by an interview schedule were conducted. We used Patton’s open coding steps and a template analyses style guided by the 4 themes of the interview schedule to analyze the data.

Results

Most participants indicated that they did not know and understand anything of cervical cancer. They believed they were bewitched and consulted traditional healers and used traditional medicine. Most described that they experienced symptoms for extended periods of time before they were diagnosed. They described how the offensive vaginal bleeding and watery discharge they experienced led to isolation, rejection, and humiliation. The participants said they did not understand how they would be treated and treatment was described as a terrible experience.

Conclusions

The women’s lived experiences of cervical cancer tell of severe suffering. They knew and understood very little about this disease. Their suffering became so unbearable that some wanted to end their lives. They were subjected to the opinions of others who knew equally as little but were quite willing to speak out, judge, and reject. Most battled through the treatment and the distressing adverse effects because it was their only hope to become better.

Recommendations

Zambian women must be empowered with knowledge and skills to protect themselves against cervical cancer. Suggestions for improving outcomes include changing high-risk behavior, taking advantage of screening opportunities, recognizing the signs of cervical cancer, and seeking health care without delay.

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