Awareness of HPV as a cause of noncervical cancers


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Jo Waller1, Laura Marlow1, Jane Wardle1
1University College London, London, UK

Background

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is now known to be involved in the aetiology of a number of anogenital and head and neck cancers. Public awareness of the link between HPV and cervical cancer is rising but little is known about lay understanding of the role of HPV in noncervical cancers. This study aimed to measure public awareness of the role of HPV in noncervical cancers and reactions to information about the link.

Method

Participants on a research panel were contacted by email and invited to complete an online questionnaire. During the survey, participants were randomised to receive information about the link between HPV and either anogenital or oral cancers.

Results

447 people completed the survey (47% response rate).  A third had heard of HPV (34%) and 31% knew its link with cervical cancer, but only 5% had heard of a link between HPV and noncervical cancers.  Prior to receiving information, participants were more likely to agree that HPV could increase the risk of other female genital cancers (vaginal 66%; vulval 58%) and to a lesser extent penile (48%) and anal (40%) cancers, but were less likely to think it could cause oral cancers (22%).  People found the information we gave them about HPV and noncervical cancers interesting (72%) but shocking (64%).  The link between HPV and anogenital cancers was rated as easier to believe than the link with oral cancers (82% vs. 72%).

Conclusion

Awareness of the link between HPV and noncervical, particularly oral, cancers is low.  This has implications for appropriate risk perceptions, and for clinicians’ communication with the increasing number of patients with HPV-related cancers.