Researchers at Texas State recently surveyed students to gauge their knowledge of the human papillomavirus (HPV), its prevalence, presentation and complications.
Their findings: the students didn’t know all that much.
The HPV was at the center of a political firestorm in Texas after Gov. Rick Perry mandated in 2008 that all girls entering the sixth grade be vaccinated. A public outcry against the mandate led to it being rescinded.
Despite that high profile, only 38.8 percent of the students surveyed knew that the virus is the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD). In addition, only 13.7 percent understood that it generally subsided without presenting any health problems. Only 15.5 percent of the students knew that condoms don’t fully protect a person from contracting HPV. Although the study showed that most students know HPV is associated with cervical cancer, it also showed that fewer than 50 percent of students knew that the virus also is associated with oropharyngeal, anal and penile cancers.
“The results didn’t surprise us, as research shows a lack of knowledge about HPV among the general public,” said Megan Trad, one of the Texas State researchers. “However, since the state’s governor mandated that starting in 2008 all girls entering the sixth grade had to receive the HPV vaccination, and even though the legislation was overturned, we thought Texas students might have a unique perspective and take advantage of the university’s free HPV vaccinations.”
The study was carried out by Texas State faculty members Trad of the radiation therapy program and Robert Reardon of the department of counseling, leadership, adult education and school psychology. The results are published in Radiologic Technology, a journal published by the American Society of Radiologic Technologists.
“As health care professionals working in the medical imaging and radiation therapy fields, we see the devastating effects of a cancer diagnosis every day,” said Trad, the study’s lead author. “As we learn more about the causes of specific cancers and ways it can be prevented, it’s our responsibility to pass that information on to others.”
Of the 411 respondents, the majority were white women 18 to 20 years old. In addition, 107 men responded to the survey, and approximately 25 percent of all respondents indicated they were Hispanic or Latino.
“The lack of knowledge about other cancers associated with HPV is important, because those cancers are preventable with education, the use of vaccines and safer sexual practices,” the authors said in the study. “Without proper education, students may only be aware of the most commonly discussed correlation – that HPV is associated with cervical cancer – and may be unaware of the other dangers the virus possesses.”
In addition, students’ level of knowledge about transmission, risk factors and prevention fluctuates. For example, students understand that there is a vaccine to prevent HPV, but don’t realize that it is effective for men as well as women. More than 60 percent indicated that they knew they were at risk for contracting HPV, but only 26.5 percent said they had completed the entire course of HPV vaccinations.
“Now that we know that HPV is associated with many more types of cancers than previously believed, it’s more important than ever to emphasize this information in schools and educate the public,” Trad said. “Once you’re aware of a problem, it’s your responsibility to share that knowledge with others in order to prevent future suffering.”