The development of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine represents a huge advance in the fight against cervical cancer. But despite HPV being the most common of sexually transmitted diseases in the United States, recent research shows that many women don't understand the important link between the two conditions.
A collection of studies, presented at the American Association for Cancer Research's Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research meeting in Boston, shows that there are is an unacceptably high number of women who are either unaware that HPV can lead to cervical cancer, or astonishingly, have never even heard of the virus.
One National Cancer Institute (NCI) study, involving over 3,000 women aged 18 to 75, revealed that only 40 percent of women had actually heard of the virus, and that only half of this group was aware that HPV could lead to cervical cancer. Researchers say that this lack of awareness may be due to the fact that no symptoms are expressed in many women with HPV, and that infections often clear up without the need for treatment.
With the advent of the HPV vaccine, health officials are mainly concerned with women's awareness of the virus and its connection with cervical cancer. Without this knowledge the HPV vaccine is all but useless. "With limited awareness about HPV among women in this country, there is a need for clear, consistent information about HPV transmission, prevention, detection and the link to cervical cancer," says NCI's Jasmin A. Tiro. "We plan to track the diffusion of knowledge to make sure that all women have accurate knowledge about HPV and how to prevent cervical cancer."
Meanwhile, other studies indicate that it's how the HPV vaccine is presented to the public that is important, as the vaccine's controversial association with a sexually transmitted disease made some women hesitant to use it. "Trends indicate that intentions are highest when the vaccine is framed to solely prevent cervical cancer and lowest when the vaccine is framed to prevent both cervical cancer and a sexually transmitted infection," said Amy Leader, of the EPIC Center of Excellence in Cancer Communication Research.
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Source: American Association for Cancer Research