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Texas State study highlights students' ignorance regarding HPV

Posted by Jayme Blaschke
University News Service
June 12, 2013

A new study by Texas State University researchers reports that only 15.5 percent of college students know that condoms don’t fully protect a person from contracting the human papillomavirus, and this lack of knowledge can lead students to a false sense of security in their sexual practices.

The full study by Texas State faculty members Megan Trad of the radiation therapy program and Robert Reardon of the department of counseling, leadership, adult education and school psychology, is published in Radiologic Technology, a journal published by the American Society of Radiologic Technologists.

The researchers at Texas State surveyed freshman students to gauge their knowledge of HPV, its prevalence, presentation and complications. The researchers’ goal was to learn about students’ level of education about HPV and identify gaps in knowledge.

“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.

Study results show that most students know HPV is associated with cervical cancer, but fewer than 50 percent of students know that the virus also is associated with oropharyngeal, anal and penile cancers. According to the authors, “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. 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.

“The results didn’t surprise us as research shows a lack of knowledge about HPV among the general public,” said Trad. “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.”

In terms of students’ level of understanding on where HPV sits on the hierarchy of sexually transmitted diseases, only 38.8 percent knew that the virus is the most common STD. In addition, only 13.7 percent understood that it generally subsided without presenting any health problems.

“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.”

Please contact the ASRT at (505) 298-4500 or communications@asrt.org to receive a copy of the peer-review article that highlights the study results.

About ASRT

The ASRT represents more than 150,000 members who perform medical imaging procedures or plan and deliver radiation therapy. The Society is the largest radiologic science association in the world. Its mission is to advance the medical imaging and radiation therapy profession and to enhance the quality of patient care.

About Texas State Radiation Therapy Program

The Texas State Radiation Therapy Program is accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT). The professional curriculum incorporates didactic and clinical elements and basic sciences that are reflective of contemporary practice in radiation therapy. Content and structured learning experiences develop attitudes and learning outcomes that prepare graduates to demonstrate a commitment to patient care and continued personal and professional development. The program is guided by the ASRT Radiation Therapy Professional Curriculum.