Social support for young violence victims could reduce risk of cervical cancer


New research from the PRC, just published in the Journal of Women’s Health, examines long-term outcomes of violence victimization in African American women. The research confirmed associations drawn in previous studies between violence victimization, psychological distress, and substance abuse, but went a step further and investigated the indirect effects of these factors on pap smear results and cervical cancer incidence later in life.

Mortality related to cervical cancer is twice as high in African American women as it is in white women, and this group is also at greater risk for experiencing violence victimization in their youth. This longitudinal study, drawing from participants in the Flint Adolescent Study, followed African American women from early high school into their thirties, and is the first of its kind to explore the relationship between violence victimization during teen years and cervical cancer risk in young adulthood. Throughout the study period, factors of mental and emotional health, social support, and sexual risk behaviors were also assessed to see how they influenced this relationship.

Results revealed that young women who had experienced violence victimization had less social support overall, and exhibited more psychological distress and heavy cigarette use. However, those that did perceive better social support were found to have fewer sexual partners in emerging adulthood and lower rates of abnormal Pap smears in young adulthood.

These findings suggest that violence victimization experienced by African American girls can have multiple detrimental influences on mental and physical health that persist into adulthood. Perceived strong social support, however, seems to mediate these effects, suggesting that, in addition to primary prevention efforts to eliminate violence, interventions focused on strengthening social support among young women can help mitigate some negative consequences of violence. Read more about the study in this recent press release.