Objectives Current National Health Service cervical screening information does not explain that the cause of cervical cancer is a sexually transmitted infection (human papillomavirus (HPV)). This study aimed to consider the impact that providing this information, in addition to risk factor information, might have on women's perceived risk of cervical cancer.
Methods Female students aged 18–24 years (n=606) completed a web-based survey and were randomised to receive (1) control information about cervical cancer; (2) details of the link between HPV and cervical cancer; (3) risk factor information or (4) details about the link with HPV + risk factor information. Risk perceptions for cervical cancer were assessed before and after reading the information.
Results There was a significant difference in perceived risk of cervical cancer between the four groups following information exposure (p=0.002). Compared with the control group, risk perceptions were significantly lower among women given risk factor information but not among those informed about HPV. There were significant group by risk factor interactions for smoking status (p<0.001), age of first sex (p=0.018) and number of sexual partners (p<0.001). Risk perceptions were lower among women considered at low risk and given risk factor information, but there was no association between information group and perceived risk for high-risk women.
Conclusions Providing risk factor information appears to reduce cervical cancer risk perceptions, but learning about the aetiological role of HPV appears to have no impact on risk perceptions. Incorporating brief information about HPV as the cause of cervical cancer should be in addition to, rather than in place of, risk factor information.
- Human papillomavirus
- risk perceptions
- optimistic bias
- cervical cancer
- behavioural interventions
- public health
- anogenital cancer
- cervical cytology
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