Background: A woman's risk for cervical cancer has been used by physicians to guide the initiation and frequency of a Pap smear. The aim of this study was to determine family physicians' knowledge of risk factors for cervical cancer and perceived importance of risk in screening women. Methods: The self-administered questionnaire was mailed to 5000 randomly selected active members of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). Results: Data from 2748 usable questionnaires indicated the mean number of risks considered for cervical cancer was 4.5. Physician's age and the number of reported risks were inversely correlated (p = 0.0001). Female physicians reported significantly more risk factors than male physicians (p = 0.05). The number of Pap smears performed per month was positively correlated with the number of risk factors reported (p = 0.001). Only 10% of the physicians indicated that they perform a Pap smear at the same interval regardless of the risk of the woman. Conclusions: This sample of family physicians has a limited understanding of the risk factors for cervical cancer. This was true regardless of the age, gender, training, race, geographic location, or practice setting of the responding physician. Yet the usual practice of screening for cervical cancer reported by these physicians would suggest that knowledge and use of risk factors would be a critical aspect of screening for cervical cancer.
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