Reuters recently reported that a new study shows Americans have more knowledge about the human papillomavirus (HPV) test than do people in Australia and the United Kingdom (UK), although not many knew particulars beyond that. Jo Waller, a public health researcher at the University College of London and the study’s senior author, believes that due to media attention, more people are aware of the vaccine than the test for the virus, while some people are not at all aware of HPV. “Awareness of HPV has tended to be low but has been rising since the introduction of testing and vaccination,” said Waller.
According to Waller, more people are familiar with the Pap test, which looks for abnormal changes in the cervix, while the HPV test, introduced more than two decades ago, looks for the virus that causes those changes. The three countries in the study use the test slightly differently. The United States uses the HPV test for screening women older than 30, as well as using it alongside the Pap test to determine treatment strategies. The UK uses it for treatment strategies, as well as to monitor treatment outcomes. Australia uses it mainly to monitor treatment outcomes.
The online study asked 2,409 women and men the same questions in all three countries. Approximately half of the 61 percent who had heard of HPV also knew about HPV testing. Generally, those who had heard of the HPV test could not answer half of the detailed questions about the test overall. Although most knew an HPV test could be given simultaneously with the Pap test, most did not know a negative HPV test meant a woman had a low risk of getting cervical cancer. However, they did know that a positive result did not mean a woman definitely would get cervical cancer. “It’s also important for people to understand that although the HPV vaccine protects against HPV, it’s still really important for women to have screening, to check for (virus) types not covered by the vaccine,” Waller said.
The study, “Knowledge of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Testing in the USA, the UK, and Australia: An International Survey,” was published online ahead of print in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections (2014; doi:10.1136/sextrans-2013-051402).