Are women ready for the new cervical screening protocol in England? A systematic review and qualitative synthesis of views about human papillomavirus testing

Br J Cancer. 2012 Jul 10;107(2):243-54. doi: 10.1038/bjc.2012.256. Epub 2012 Jun 14.


Background: A new protocol for human papillomavirus (HPV) testing within the UK cervical screening programme commenced in April 2011, creating new patient experiences. This is the first review to synthesise a substantial body of international evidence of women's information needs, views and preferences regarding HPV testing. We aimed to inform the development of educational materials to promote informed choice, reduce anxiety and improve disease control.

Methods: We searched 12 bibliographic databases. Two reviewers independently screened papers and assessed study quality; disagreements were resolved by discussion. Results were extracted verbatim and authors' findings treated as primary data. Studies were synthesised collaboratively using framework methods.

Results: We synthesised findings from 17 studies. Women had overwhelmingly negative concerns; an HPV diagnosis was daunting, had associated problems of disclosure of a sexually transmitted infection (STI), impacted on relationships and provoked fear of stigmatisation. Nevertheless, many thought HPV testing could be a preferable alternative to repeat cytology. Knowledge was poor; women struggled to interpret limited information in the context of existing knowledge about STIs and cervical cancer.

Conclusion: Women are likely to be poorly informed, have limited understanding and many unanswered questions. This could increase anxiety and reduce ability to make informed choices, presenting a substantial challenge for those who design and provide information.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Cervix Uteri / virology*
  • England
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening / methods*
  • Mass Screening / psychology*
  • Papillomaviridae / chemistry*
  • Papillomavirus Infections / diagnosis*
  • Papillomavirus Infections / prevention & control
  • Papillomavirus Infections / psychology*
  • Papillomavirus Infections / virology
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology*
  • Stereotyping
  • Systematic Reviews as Topic