Abstract: “What Comes to Mind when you Hear HPV?” Gender Differences in Thoughts on HPV and HPV Vaccination Rates among College Students

◆ Keith Richards, East Carolina University
◆ Katherine Hyatt Hawkins, George Mason University
◆ Hannah Catalano, University of North Carolina Wilmington

Background: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2019) estimate that the human papillomavirus (HPV) is contracted by 14 million Americans, leading to 35,000 cases of cancer each year. The HPV vaccine series has nearly a 100% success rate in preventing genital warts and cervical cancer. Although the vaccine is quite efficacious, there are a number of individuals in the “catch-up” age range (18-45 years) who have not been vaccinated. These individuals are likely sexually active and could be spreading/contracting HPV. Research has identified knowledge gaps regarding HPV/HPV vaccine among college students, but has relied mostly on standardized quantitative measures. Current research lacks a consensus on baseline reactions or understanding of HPV and its associated risks. The purpose of this study was threefold: (1) to determine what college students think of when they hear HPV, (2) compare college men and women’s responses to the question above, and (3) compare college men and women’s HPV vaccination uptake rates and series completion rates. The results may inform HPV vaccination related conversations that providers have with this population.
Method: College students (N=668), who had heard of HPV, from two large universities in the Southeastern United States completed an online survey about HPV and HPV vaccination. The participants ranged in age from 18-45 (M=20.49, SD=3.43 years) with the majority being female (58%), White (62%), single (59%), and 72% had engaged in at least one sexual act.
Results: The sample aligned with prior research in that females were more likely to have started the vaccine series (F(2,665)=3.24, p=.040) and to have completed it (F(2,662)=6.29, p=.002). Participants were asked to write the first thing that came to mind when they heard “human papillomavirus (HPV)” and STD (n=124, 18.6%), disease (n=87, 13.0%), and vaccine (n=74, 11.1%) were cited most. Sex (n=36, 5.4%), STI (n=30, 4.5%), virus (n=23, 3.4%), AIDS/HIV (n=14, 3.0%), cancer (n=19, 2.8%), infection (n=19, 2.8%), cervical cancer (n=17, 2.5%) and warts (n=17, 2.5%) were the only others accounting for at least 2.5% of the responses. Males mentioned STD (n=62, 22.5%), disease (n=37, 13.5%) and vaccine (n=23, 8.4%) most frequently whereas women responded most often with STD (n=62, 16.0%), vaccine (n=51, 13.1%), and disease (n=50, 12.9%).
Implications/discussion: The low number of individuals who mentioned cancer and genital warts, which are serious effects of contracting HPV, indicate the need for further education. Results call attention to the intersectionality of cancer communication and health education. When designing communication strategies for providers or health campaigns advocating HPV vaccine uptake, research on cancer risk communication should be considered. Results further indicate a continued need to reduce the discrepancy in vaccine uptake based on gender and the need to educate college students about HPV related cancers beyond cervical cancer. Research has shown that interventions engaging both peers and providers are effective at increasing HPV vaccine uptake; results from this study offer insight into the exact phrasing college students may use when discussing HPV and can therefore be used by providers to initiate conversations with college student patients.