Psychosocial impact of testing human papillomavirus positive in Australia's human papillomavirus-based cervical screening program: A cross-sectional survey

Psychooncology. 2022 Jul;31(7):1110-1119. doi: 10.1002/pon.5897. Epub 2022 Feb 12.


Objective: To examine the impact of self-reported human papillomavirus (HPV) test result (HPV negative, HPV positive, HPV result unknown) on a range of psychosocial outcomes.

Methods: Women and other people with a cervix in Australia aged 25-74 years who reported having participated in cervical screening since December 2017 were recruited through Facebook and Instagram to complete an online survey. The primary outcome measures were anxiety, emotional distress, and general distress.

Results: Nine hundred fifteen participants completed the online survey; 73.2% reported testing HPV negative ('HPV-'), 15% reported testing HPV positive ('HPV+') and 11.8% reported that they did not know/remember their test result ('HPV unknown'). Compared to participants testing HPV-, participants testing HPV+ had higher mean anxiety (41.67 vs. 37.08, p < 0.001) and emotional distress scores (11.88 vs. 7.71, p < 0.001). Concern about test result (34.3% vs. 1.3%, p < 0.001), perceived risk compared to average women (55.4% vs. 14.1%, p < 0.001), and cancer worry (27.8% vs. 5.9%, p < 0.001) were also greater among HPV+ participants than participants testing HPV-. Participants testing HPV+ felt less reassured about their screening result than participants testing HPV- (16% vs. 75.1%, p < 0.001). Participants testing HPV+ had greater knowledge of HPV (11.96 vs. 10.36 out of 16, p < 0.001) and HPV testing (3.94 vs 3.28 out of 5, p < 0.001) than participants who reported testing HPV-.

Conclusions: Elevated levels of anxiety and emotional distress were found in those testing HPV+ compared with those testing HPV-. Future research should examine what strategies should be used to deliver test results and what additional information is provided, in order to alleviate anxiety among individuals testing HPV+.

Keywords: anxiety; cancer; early detection of cancer; oncology; papillomavirus infections; psychological distress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alphapapillomavirus*
  • Cervix Uteri
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Early Detection of Cancer / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening / psychology
  • Papillomavirus Infections* / prevention & control
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms* / prevention & control
  • Vaginal Smears / psychology