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SURVEY IDENTIFIES COMMUNICATION GAP BETWEEN PROVIDERS AND PATIENTS REGARDING HPV AND CERVICAL CANCER



Association of Reproductive Health Professionals Calls for Women to Talk to Their Providers, Request Comprehensive Screenings

For Immediate Release
June 28,  2005

Washington, DC, June 28, 2005 – Eighty-eight percent of women rely on their health care providers to learn about gynecological issues, yet only 19 percent said their doctor has talked to them about cervical cancer and its cause – the human papillomavirus (HPV) – according to a new survey released by the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP). HPV is extremely common, affecting an estimated 80 percent of sexually active adults in their lifetime, in some cases staying dormant until years after the initial infection. Yet few are talking about the relationship between HPV and cervical cancer despite the fact that advanced screening is available, which can detect the virus early and help prevent cervical cancer.

“The communications gap between providers and patients related to cervical cancer and HPV is an issue that is largely due to time constraints, and a reluctance to discuss a sexually transmitted infection with women,” said Dr. Beth Jordan, medical director at ARHP. “But because new techniques, including improved types of diagnostic testing, now make cervical cancer a disease that can be better prevented, we’re encouraging women to discuss with their health care provider their HPV risk, get regular screenings with the Pap test and, if they are age 30 or older, ask about HPV testing as well.”

Other major findings from the report show:

  • Only 17 percent of women know that cervical cancer is the most preventable cancer. In contrast, 59 percent believe either breast (30 percent) or lung (29 percent) cancer is most preventable. While there are risk factors associated with other cancers, only cervical cancer has a single known cause – HPV.
  • Only 23 percent of women surveyed correctly identified HPV as the primary cause of cervical cancer.
Women Most at Risk are Least Aware

According to the survey, women age 30 and under, who are least at risk for cervical cancer, are most knowledgeable about its cause and more likely to discuss HPV openly with their health care professionals.  Conversely, women 30 and older, who are more likely to have persistent, high-risk forms of HPV that can lead to cervical cancer, and therefore may benefit from HPV testing along with their Pap, are less knowledgeable about the virus.

  • Sixty percent of women under 30 have heard of HPV, compared to 48 percent of women 30+ (those most at risk).
  • Nearly one third of women under 30 say they have talked to their doctor about HPV and cervical cancer compared to just 18 percent of women 30+.

“The first step in lowering cervical cancer rates is to educate both health care providers and women that this cancer is nearly 100 percent preventable through the use of regular screening with the available technologies appropriate to each age group,” said Wayne Shields, president & CEO, ARHP. “One of the keys to making prevention possible is broader education of both women and providers, focusing on informed, shared decision-making.”

Survey Methodology

A survey, fielded by Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research Inc., was conducted among 1,000 women between the ages of 18 and 65 from February 11 – 16, 2005. A single-stage random-digit-dial sample representative of residential listed telephone numbers in the 50 United States was used.

About HPV and Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer strikes nearly 11,000 women in the United States each year, and is second only to breast cancer in the number of women it affects worldwide. Cervical cancer is caused by high-risk forms of HPV, which are transmitted sexually. In the majority of women, the virus is eliminated naturally by the body’s immune system. But in some cases, the infection persists – sometimes staying dormant in the body months or even years before it becomes active, with the potential to cause cell changes in the cervix that can ultimately become cancerous. The Pap test can identify cells that have become abnormal due to HPV, and HPV testing detects the presence of the virus itself. The FDA has approved routine HPV testing in women age 30 and older – the group most likely to have persistent infections and most at risk of cervical cancer. In addition, vaccines are in development and are designed to protect those inoculated if they have not yet been exposed to the virus. However, screening will still be necessary, since the vaccines now being researched only target some of the several types of HPV that may trigger cervical cancer.

For more information about the HPV survey visit www.arhp.org/HPVsurvey.

To learn more about cervical cancer prevention visit www.arhp.org/topics/cancer.

The survey was supported by an unrestricted educational grant from Digene Corporation.



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The Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP) is the leading source for trusted medical education and information on reproductive and sexual health. ARHP educates health care providers, informs consumers, and helps shape public policy. ARHP is a non-profit membership association composed of highly qualified and committed experts in reproductive health. ARHP members are health professionals in clinical practice, education, research, and advocacy and they include physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurse midwives, researchers, educators, pharmacists, and other professionals in reproductive health. To learn more, visit: http://www.arhp.org.