Women’s views about HPV testing may present a challenge for cervical screening programmes

Findings of study reveal that women have a strong attachment to smear tests and have concerns over human papillomavirus (HPV) infection and HPV testing.

The findings of a study (full text available here), conducted by researchers at the National Cancer Registry and recently published in BMC Women’s Health, reveal that women have a strong attachment to smear tests and have concerns over human papillomavirus (HPV) infection and HPV testing.

HPV is the virus which causes cervical cancer. Tests for presence of HPV infection are available and there are plans in many countries to incorporate these into cervical screening programmes.  HPV vaccination programmes are in place in several countries, including Ireland.

The researchers carried out focus groups with women from across Ireland. These groups discussed women’s views and attitudes regarding cervical smear tests and HPV. 

Almost all women, even those who were aware of HPV infection and/or vaccination, lacked any knowledge of HPV testing. Attitudes and views about HPV testing changed as women discussed the topic. Women talked about fears of testing HPV positive the effects this might have on their relationships. They described feeling ‘powerless’ at the lack of treatment for HPV; one woman asked “if you can’t treat HPV, why test for it?”. This made women question the value of HPV testing. They also expressed a strong attachment to existing methods of cervical screening (i.e. smear tests).

The results suggest that screening programmes need to devise tailored and appropriate information regarding HPV, to ensure that HPV testing will be acceptable to women.

This study was conducted under the auspices of the CERVIVA collaboration and funded by the HRB

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