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To gain a better understanding of factors that affect follow-up and the strategies that have been found to improve follow-up after an abnormal Papanicolaou (Pap) smear test.A computer-based search of the literature was conducted using MEDLINE with the keywords adherence, nonadherence, compliance, follow-up, and abnormal Pap smears.Research studies published between 1985 and 1999 in the English language were included. If relevant studies were cited in the articles reviewed, these studies also were reviewed. A total of 25 studies were reviewed.A critical review of these studies was conducted, with special attention to implications for clinical practice as well as future research. The studies fell into two groups: factors associated with nonadherence and strategies developed to improve adherence.A number of factors were identified that affect adherence to follow-up among women with abnormal Pap smears. Some of these factors involve characteristics of the woman, such as demographics, social support, lack of understanding, and fear. Factors that pertain to the health care system, such as inconvenient clinic hours, male providers, and insensitive staff, also were identified. A number of strategies have been successful in improving follow-up, including telephone counseling, educational programs, and economic incentives.Nurses play a crucial role in facilitating adherence to recommendations for follow-up. They can identify women at risk for poor follow-up, increase awareness of the factors that affect follow-up, and implement strategies shown to be successful in improving adherence. Future research should take into account the multifactoral nature of adherence as well as the patient's perspective. In addition, studies should be designed with special attention to generalizability and should include women from populations most at risk for cervical cancer.