Background: The introduction of human papillomavirus (HPV) testing into cervical screening has the potential to alter public perceptions of cervical cancer by making explicit the role of a sexually transmitted virus in its etiology. HPV knowledge has been found to be poor, although there is evidence of public awareness of a link between sexual activity and cervical cancer risk. We explored beliefs about the risk factors for cervical cancer in a large population sample.
Methods: Face-to-face interviews were carried out with a representative sample of the British population. All participants were asked what they thought increased a women's chances of developing cervical cancer.
Results: The response rate was 71% (n = 1940). The most common single response was 'don't know' (38%). Forty-one percent of respondents mentioned factors relating to sex, but only 14% were aware of a link with sexual transmission and fewer than 1% named HPV. Women and more educated people had better knowledge of the established risk factors. The patterning of risk factor awareness by age varied across risk factors.
Conclusions: Awareness of the role of a sexually transmitted virus in the etiology of cervical cancer is very low in Britain. Provision of information associated with the introduction of HPV testing could change public perceptions of cervical cancer.