DENVER — One immigrant woman told of visiting five gynecologists in recent months, each of whom gasped audibly at her anatomy.
Another went to see a doctor, only to become the subject of a gawking crew of medical residents.
And a third said she had never visited a gynecologist, despite experiencing abdominal pain since age 10, when her genitals were cut in her native Gambia. “I feel ashamed,” said the woman, Mariama Bojang, 25. “The doctor has probably never seen anything like this. How am I supposed to explain it?”
As the number of African immigrants in the United States has grown, so has the number of women living in this country who have undergone genital cutting. About half a million women in the United States have experienced the procedure or are likely to be subjected to it by their families, according to a preliminary report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That figure is about three times the last government estimate, made in 1997.
A study to be released Friday by the Population Reference Bureau is expected to show similar numbers.
Public health officials, however, are warning that some doctors and nurses are not prepared to deal with the physical and emotional complications associated with the procedure — sometimes called female genital mutilation or F.G.M./C — and in some cases may unintentionally traumatize the women they are trying to help.