Personal meaning of human papillomavirus and Pap test results in adolescent and young adult women

Health Psychol. 2007 Mar;26(2):192-200. doi: 10.1037/0278-6133.26.2.192.


Objective: As new cervical cancer screening recommendations are adopted, more adolescents may learn they are infected with human papillomavirus (HPV). The objective of this study was to explore personal meaning of HPV and Pap test results in adolescent and young adult women.

Design: The authors recruited sexually active 14- to 21-year-old adolescent girls from an urban teen health center. Participants underwent HPV and Pap testing at baseline and returned 2 weeks later to receive test results and to be interviewed about their responses to test results. The authors analyzed interview transcripts using qualitative methods and developed a conceptual framework to explain participants' responses.

Main outcome measures: Of the 100 participants, 51% were HPV positive and 23% had an abnormal Pap test. Personal meaning was comprised of four core dimensions: labeling of results, perceived risk of HPV-related disease, personal accountability, and anticipated shame or stigma. The association between test result and personal meaning was mediated through cognitive understanding of test results, which in turn was influenced by education about HPV and prior health experiences.

Conclusion: Clinicians who communicate HPV and Pap test results to adolescent girls should provide accurate information in a nonjudgmental manner, take into account adolescents' personal experiences with sexually transmitted infections and cancer, and explore personal meaning of results such as anticipated risk and stigma. In this way, clinicians may be able to minimize adverse psychosocial outcomes while promoting positive reproductive health behaviors.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Communication
  • Female
  • Health Education
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Papillomavirus Infections / diagnosis
  • Patients / psychology*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • United States
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Vaginal Smears*