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Am Fam Physician. 2002;65(2):285

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States. Some studies have shown a potential lifetime risk of HPV infection of 70 percent or greater. Men and women in the 20 to 24 year age group are at highest risk for HPV infection, especially if they are attending college. HPV infection is considered the most important causative factor in the development of cervical cancer, and it increases the risk of penile and anal cancers in men. Studies have shown that members of this age group are generally unaware of HPV. Therefore, primary prevention strategies targeted toward this high-risk age group should be developed. Lambert evaluated the effects of a brief, educational intervention focused on HPV on college students' knowledge of the disease.

The participants in the study were students in either a first-year physician's assistant class or a mid-level psychology class. All students were given a 12-item self-administered questionnaire testing their knowledge of sexually transmitted diseases, specifically HPV infection. An expert panel reviewed the questionnaire, and reliability was evaluated by the test-retest method. After completion of the questionnaire, the students received a brief educational intervention relating to HPV. Three months after the intervention, the same group of students again completed the same questionnaire.

Before the educational intervention, only 47 percent of the HPV-specific questions were answered correctly, compared with 79 percent on the post-intervention questionnaire. There were no differences between men and women in correctly answering HPV-specific questions. The physician's assistant students performed significantly better on the HPV questions than the psychology students.

The author concludes that only a small number of college students are familiar with HPV, despite the fact that HPV infection is so common among this population. Brief, HPV-focused educational interventions are an effective way for physicians to improve their patients' knowledge of HPV. The author adds that further studies must be performed to evaluate the effectiveness of HPV-specific education on changing risky sexual behaviors.

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