Objectives The aim of this study was to understand causes of attendance and non-attendance to a follow-up cervical cancer screening among human papillomavirus (HPV)-positive women. Design Semistructured, individual interviews with HPV-positive women and cervical cancer screening nurses. The interview guide and initial data analysis were guided by existing health behaviour theories. However, as the theories limited the potential of the data material, a grounded theory framework guided the final data analysis. Setting Interviews were conducted in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, at Ocean Road Cancer Institute (ORCI) or in the homes of screening clients. Participants 15 interviews were conducted with women who had tested HPV-positive during a patient-initiated screening and been appointed for a follow-up screening 14 months later. Nine women had not attended the follow-up appointment, four had delayed attendance and two had attended on the scheduled date. Further, individual interviews were conducted with the two nurses working at ORCI's screening clinic. Results Perceived benefits for attending a patient-initiated screening include treatment of gynaecological symptoms and prevention of disease. The key perceived benefit of a health provider-initiated follow-up screening is prevention, which is challenged by the circumstance that it is seen by women as having merely potential benefit and therefore can be postponed when competing needs are present. Perceived challenges for screening attendance include emotional costs, in the form of fear of the disease, fear of the gynaecological examination as well as direct and indirect economic costs, such as transportation costs, lost income and waiting time. Conclusion Cervical cancer screening is one among many tasks that women living in a low-income setting must attend to. Since health provider-initiated follow-up screening is seen as having only potential benefit, attendance can be postponed when competing needs exist.