What influences the HPV-related information needs of women having HPV tests?

New study identifies barriers to accessing and absorbing HPV information and factors influencing women's HPV information needs

A new paper by researchers from CERVIVA and the National Cancer Registry reports on the information needs of women who have tests for human papillomavirus (HPV) within cervical screening programmes.

HPV is the virus which causes cervical cancer. Tests for HPV infections are available and many countries are incorporating these into cervical screening programmes. In Ireland, women who have follow-up after treatment for cervical lesions now have a HPV test.

The researchers conducted interviews with 27 women who had had a HPV test. Some women had never heard of HPV before their colposcopy clinic visit. Women identified several barriers to accessing and absorbing HPV information. They described feeling overwhelmed with information about their abnormal cytology and colposcopy; this “information overload” made it difficult for them to take in information about HPV. Women recommended that information about HPV, abnormal cytology and related issues should be provided in stages (rather than all together) to help them understand and absorb it better. The context of the HPV test formed another barrier. Some women described undergoing colposcopy as unpleasant and something that they wanted to be over quickly; this inhibited them from asking questions about HPV. In addition, if women perceived the HPV test as a normal part of follow-up, they were less inclined to ask questions about it.

Several important influences on women’s HPV information needs were also identified. For example, if women viewed their abnormal cytology test result or treatment as serious, they considered HPV a low priority.

This study provides important information for colposcopy clinics and screening service providers. It suggests that simply providing women with more information about HPV will not necessarily ensure that they are adequately informed about their HPV tests. Instead, appropriate information delivery strategies need to be designed to overcome the barriers identified in this study. 

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