Young Puerto Rican women and their mothers know little about HPV, cervical cancer

By | December 8, 2014

According to the study published in Preventing Chronic Disease, a publication of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV vaccination rates are low among Puerto Rican women. Fifty one percent of Puerto Rican girls aged 11 to 18 have started the 3-step vaccination process and only 21 percent have completed the series.

“Our study is the first to provide insight into common psychosocial barriers affecting HPV vaccination in Puerto Rico,” said Mar�a E. Fern�ndez, Ph.D., principal investigator and associate professor of health promotion and behavioral sciences at the UTHealth School of Public Health.

Researchers conducted seven focus groups with women aged 16 to 24 and their mothers in 2010 to assess knowledge, attitudes and beliefs related to cervical cancer, HPV and HPV vaccination.

Few female participants said that cervical cancer is caused by HPV, multiple sexual partners or lack of routine screening. Unvaccinated women had little knowledge about HPV or the vaccine. They said that cervical cancer is caused by genetic predisposition, use of birth control pills, lack of hygiene, poor diet and lack of physical activity.

Most mothers had difficulty explaining what cervical cancer is and suggested several causes, including HPV, genetic predisposition, multiple sex partners and early initiation of sexual activity. Some mothers of unvaccinated girls also said that cervical cancer is fatal “like HIV.” With one exception, all mothers said that regular Pap tests could detect cervical cancer. Only one mother knew that HPV is sexually transmitted.

“This research suggests that Puerto Rican-specific intervention messages need to include more information about vaccine efficacy, more recommendations from providers and increased promotion of the vaccine,” said Fernandez.

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