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Keywords:

  • cervical cancer screening;
  • DNA testing;
  • human papillomavirus;
  • sexually transmitted disease;
  • news media

Abstract

BACKGROUND

Now that human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA testing is being incorporated into cervical cancer screening programs, salient and accurate media information about HPV will be crucial to inform women's screening choices and to manage psychosocial responses to HPV DNA test results.

METHODS

The authors conducted a content analysis of 111 news stories about HPV from the 10 most circulated newspapers and from 3 major television networks for the period from January 1995 through July 2002. Stories were assessed for predominant theme (STD, cancer, or new tests); information about symptoms, transmission, prevention, and cancer-causing properties of HPV; screening test descriptions; and recommended screening guidelines.

RESULTS

Thirty-six percent of stories primarily were about new tests for HPV or cervical cancer, 30% of stories focused on cervical cancer or its link to HPV, and 27% of stories emphasized sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or genital warts. Seventy-nine percent of stories mentioned that HPV is an STD, and 50% of stories reported that HPV is very common. Twenty-six percent of stories reported that most women with HPV will not develop cervical carcinoma. Of 81 stories that mentioned a screening test for HPV or cervical carcinoma, 38% reported the sensitivity of the test; 30% mentioned wrong, uncertain, or unnecessary test results; and 25% mentioned consequences of such results.

CONCLUSIONS

Media coverage of HPV could better fulfill women's educational needs by including information about low-risk and high-risk types of HPV and their differing links to cervical cancer; describing HPV prevention, transmission, and symptoms; explaining the benefits and consequences of HPV testing; and outlining the latest screening guidelines in every story. Cancer 2004;100:308–14. © 2003 American Cancer Society.