Female nursing students' knowledge and beliefs about the human papilloma virus, its link to cervical cancer, and the importance of cervical screening
Master of Public Health
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The purpose of this study was to conduct a comparative analysis of the knowledge and beliefs about human papilloma virus (HPV) infection, its link to cervical cancer, and the importance of cervical screening among a group of female nursing students ages 18 to 24 currently enrolled at a university in Northwestern Ontario. The researcher designed a questionnaire to compile data on demographics; general health behaviours; and knowledge of specific, health-related issues of HPV, cervical cancer, and cervical screening. The questionnaire combined open-ended and closed questions to address the sensitive nature of some of the questions. Fifty-three percent of the respondents had never heard of HPV, and more than 50% were not aware that it is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD). Fifty-nine percent had no knowledge of the common risk factors for HPV, and 54% had no knowledge that HPV increases the risk of cervical cancer. Open-ended questions revealed common feelings of fear and embarrassment among the study participants; despite having these feelings, most respondents recognized the importance of having Pap smears, with over 80% acknowledging that a Pap smear detects abnormal cells in the cervix and that women should begin to have Pap smears once sexually active or by the age of 18. Recommendations included revamping nursing curriculum on STD prevention education to include HPV transmission, risk factors, the high prevalence rate of HPV among this age group, and its causal link to cervical cancer; increasing educational material at university health clinics; and implementing a team approach with health care professionals on university campuses to provide a continuum of care for females infected with HPV or displaying other cervical abnormalities.