Australian women's needs and preferences for information about human papillomavirus in cervical screening

Kirsten McCaffery, Les Irwig
Journal of Medical Screening 2005, 12 (3): 134-41

OBJECTIVE: The role of human papillomavirus (HPV) in cervical cancer and developments in medical technology to prevent cervical cancer has changed information needs for women participating in cervical screening.

DESIGN: Qualitative face-to-face interviews were conducted with 19 women diagnosed with HPV infection on their Pap smear following routine cervical screening.

SETTING: Family planning clinics, general practice and specialist gynaecologist practices in Sydney and the surrounding area, Australia.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Women's information needs, preferences and experiences of HPV diagnosis.

RESULTS: Women wanted further information on different HPV viral types, transmission, implications for sexual partners, prevalence, latency and regression of HPV, their management options and the implications of infection for cancer risk and fertility. Uncertainty about the key aspects of HPV, the style in which the clinician communicated the result and the mode of delivering the result (letter, telephone or consultation) influenced women's psychological response to the diagnosis of HPV. The delivery of results by letter alone was linked to considerable anxiety among the women interviewed. Women's experience of searching the Internet for further information about HPV was reported as difficult, anxiety provoking and contributing to the stigma of the infection because information was often located in the context of other sexually transmitted infections, with multiple sexual partners highlighted as a risk factor for infection.

CONCLUSION: Women participating in cervical screening need high-quality information about HPV and its role in cervical cancer prior to screening rather than afterwards, when they face an abnormal result. The clinician potentially plays an important role in moderating the effects of diagnosis through the manner and mode in which an HPV diagnosis is delivered. Revision of cervical screening policy and practice in light of the changes in the understanding of HPV is recommended.

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