Women Understand Continued Need For Regular Pap Testing

Armen Hareyan's picture

A year after the first HPV vaccine was approved, women say they know that Pap tests are important, are having them regularly, and rely on their doctors more than any other source for information to help them make health decisions, according to a new nationwide survey of 1,421 women ages 18 to 45 who have heard of the new HPV vaccine. However, it also finds that one in four uninsured women (24 percent) have not had a Pap test in the last three years, and Latinas are less aware than other women that HPV is sexually transmitted.

The survey was conducted by Lake Research Partners for the American Social Health Association (ASHA) in June -- one year after the Food & Drug Administration approved a vaccine that protects against the four strains of HPV responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. Women who said they had not heard of the HPV vaccine that protects against cervical cancer were excluded from the survey, but more than 90 percent said they had heard of it.

Of the women surveyed, a strong majority (85 percent) say women should get Pap tests once a year, and 87 percent say they have had one in the past three years. Women understand the link between HPV and cervical cancer -- more than eight in ten say that HPV is a cause of cervical cancer, and two-thirds (66 percent) say it is a major cause. Still, many also cite genetics and family history (80 percent), herpes (46 percent) and smoking (45 percent) as causes when, in fact, cervical cancer is caused by HPV.

"This survey offers some very welcome news," said ASHA Vice President for Health Policy Deborah Arrindell. "Women understand the link between HPV and cervical cancer and they see regular Pap screenings as essential -- even with the vaccine available. But there is work still to do to improve awareness among Latinas and to help more uninsured women get the Pap tests they need. And we must ensure that the generation growing up now knows that regular screenings are important, even if they have had an HPV vaccine. "

Women are not as well-informed about how HPV is transmitted. One in five says HPV is not sexually transmitted, and 24 percent are unsure. Younger women are more likely to understand that it is. The survey also finds that:

-- Nine in ten women agree that women and girls need to get regular Pap tests because the new vaccine does not protect against all strains of the virus.


-- Despite being less likely to know that HPV is sexually transmitted, Latinas express greater intensity than do white and African American women that regular Pap tests are important (80 percent, 73 percent and 70 percent respectively say it is "extremely important").

-- Ninety-six percent of women say their doctors are most influential when they make health decisions, followed by nurses (91 percent). Health care providers also have the most influence on women's decisions about Pap tests.

-- Two-thirds of women (67 percent) favor requiring the HPV vaccine for girls and young women, although support is lower among mothers of daughtersages 11 to 17 (58 percent).

To help women discuss HPV, cervical cancer and Pap tests with their health care providers, ASHA and the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists have developed a new brochure, "Ask How Your Can Prevent Cervical Cancer," which provides important facts, information and questions women should ask.

There are more than 12,000 cases of cervical cancer diagnosed in the U.S. annually -- 4,000 of which result in death. Most women diagnosed with cervical cancer have never had a Pap test, or have gone many years without one.

HPV is human papillomavirus, a common group of viruses that infect the skin.

The survey findings were based on a random telephone sample of 1,421 women ages 18 to 45, with a base sample of 1,271 women and oversamples of African American women and mothers of daughters ages 11 to 17. The margin of error for all women is 2.7 percent, for African American women it is 7.7 percent and for women with daughter ages 11 to 17 is 5.3 percent.