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Survey Exposes Communication Gap Between Providers/Patients Regarding HPV and Cervical Cancer

Executive Summary


A new survey from the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP) evaluates patient and health care provider attitudes and perceptions of cervical cancer and its cause – the human papillomavirus (HPV). The findings show that women and their health care providers are not communicating about the relationship between cervical cancer, one of the only preventable cancers, and HPV. ARHP hopes these results will encourage women to empower themselves with information about cervical cancer to make educated health care decisions, express their concerns during doctor visits, and request regular screenings with the Pap test and, for women 30 and older, inquire about HPV testing.


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 telephone numbers from all 50 states was used.

Women are conscientious about their gynecological/reproductive health.

  • Most women (77 percent) have seen a doctor, nurse or other provider within the past year, and almost all did so for a routine exam (80 percent).
  • Women are very comfortable talking to their provider about a range of issues – including HPV (67 percent) and cervical cancer (85 percent).
  • Seven out of 10 women are diligent about regular cervical cancer screening (99 percent with the Pap smear). Yet women have little sense of the preventative nature of cervical cancer, though its primary cause is known and advanced screening including HPV testing is available to identify its presence and enhance disease prevention.

Women trust their provider for medical education and feel comfortable talking to them about important health issues. However, they are not communicating about cervical cancer/HPV.

  • Most women (88 percent) rely on their provider for important information about reproductive/gynecological issues.
  • Conversations between health care providers and their patients are fairly non-specific, with 25 percent saying they talked about regular check-ups during their last visit, 14 percent discussed Pap tests and 10 percent didn’t talk about anything specific at all.
  • This broad exchange is not driven by discomfort or lack of confidence in their health care providers, as 84 percent of women believe their health care provider is very knowledgeable about cervical cancer; 66 percent say their provider is very knowledgeable about HPV.
  • However, 47 percent say they do not talk to their provider about HPV, and 81 percent say that their health care provider has never talked to them about the connection between HPV and cervical cancer.

There is a direct relationship between time spent with their health care provider and patient knowledge about cervical cancer/HPV.

  • More than half of women (55 percent) spend 15 minutes or less talking to their provider on an average visit.
  • Nearly half (45 percent) say they don’t spend enough time or spend no time talking to their health care provider about cervical cancer; 63 percent say the same about HPV.
  • Women who spend more than a half hour (30 percent) talking to their health care provider during a regular visit are more likely to have talked to their doctor about the connection between HPV and cervical cancer than those (eight percent) that spent 10 minutes or less.

Women do not understand the link between cervical cancer and HPV.

  • Just 49 percent of women say they have heard of HPV, despite the fact that 80 percent of sexually active adults are exposed to the virus at some point in their lives.
  • Only 23 percent of women correctly identified HPV as the primary cause of cervical cancer. Most incorrectly attribute it to genetics (34 percent) or long-term use of hormones (13 percent).
  • Only 17 percent of women believe cervical cancer is the most preventable cancer, compared to 59 percent who think that either breast cancer (30 percent) or lung cancer (29 percent) is most preventable.

Dangerous knowledge gaps exist for women most at risk for cervical cancer: High risk does not correlate with understanding.

  • Sixty percent of women under 30 (those least at risk for cervical cancer), have heard of HPV compared to 48 percent of women 30 and older (those most at risk).
  • More women under 30 (32 percent) can correctly attribute cervical cancer to HPV compared to women over 30 (22 percent).
  • Nearly one third of women under 30 say they have talked to their health care provider about the link between HPV and cervical cancer, compared to just 18 percent of women 30 and older.

There is a disparity in patterns of knowledge about HPV among different demographics.

  • College educated women (67 percent) are nearly twice as likely to have heard of HPV as women with a high school education (36 percent).
  • Just 15 percent of women with a high school education or less know that HPV is the cause of cervical cancer as opposed to 35 percent of college educated women.
  • One-quarter of college educated women report that their health care providers have talked to them about the connection between HPV and cervical cancer, compared to 17 percent of women with a high school education or less.

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