OBJECTIVES: To explore barriers to free cervical cancer screening among rural women in China from the perspective of women, healthcare providers and women’s husbands to inform intervention planning. DESIGN: A qualitative study framed around potential policy and practice options, drawing on the concepts of descriptive phenomenology and implementation research. SETTING: This study was carried out at township level within two counties in Jining Prefecture of eastern China. PARTICIPANTS AND DATA COLLECTION: Semi-structured in-depth interviews with 21 women and five healthcare providers, focus group discussions with nine healthcare providers and key informant interviews with four husbands of women eligible for screening. RESULTS: Thematic analysis generated five major themes: (1) gaps in knowledge of cervical cancer and health awareness, (2) fear of cancer and screening outcomes, (3) cultural barriers including reticence for intimate examinations, (4) influence of close contacts on screening decisions and (5) inconvenience. These demonstrate key knowledge gaps challenging current community health education. Important barriers, including fear of treatment cost and the time needed for screening, were also raised. CONCLUSION: Our study details important barriers to cervical cancer screening relating to knowledge gaps, attitudes of fear or embarrassment and the role of contacts and service models. These provide data for policy and planning to improve the screening that will decrease the incidence and mortality rates of cervical cancer in China.
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