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Why was disclosing an HPV diagnosis so easy? Reactions following women’s disclosure of HPV diagnosis to partners and significant others

Holly Rayko, MA1, Jennifer Lee Packing-Ebuen, MA2, Trisha E. Mueller, BS3, Ellen M. Daley, PhD, MPH3, Karen M. Perrin, PhD, MPH, RN4, Mary McFarlane, PhD5, Robert J. McDermott, PhD3, and Sandra F. Naoom, MSPH(c)6. (1) USF Student Health Services, 4202 East Fowler Ave., SHS 100, Tampa, FL 33620, 813-974-4936, hrayko@shs.usf.edu, (2) Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, 8068 N. 56th St., Tampa, FL 33617, (3) College of Public Health, University of South Florida, 13201 Bruce B. Downs Blvd. MDC 56, Tampa, FL 33612, (4) Dept. of Community and Family Health, University of South Florida, College of Public Health, 13201 Bruce B. Downs Blvd. MDC-56, Tampa, FL 33612, (5) Division of STD Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1600 Clifton Road, Mailstop E-44, Atlanta, GA 30333, (6) Child and Family Studies, Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute, University of South Florida, 13301 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., MHC 2423, Tampa, FL 33612

Background: An abnormal screening test result for cervical cancer evokes negative emotional responses for women. Changes in cervical tissue are primarily associated with Human Papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmissible infection (STI). HPV presents women with three concurrent negative circumstances that inspire fear and other emotions: (1) They have an STI; (2) HPV presently has no cure; and (3) HPV increases risk of cervical cancer. Purpose: We explored reactions of partners, family and friends to whom the diagnosis was disclosed. Methods: To assess the impact of an HPV-related diagnosis, in-depth interviews and written surveys were conducted among women recently diagnosed with HPV at three ethnically diverse clinics in west central Florida. A series of questions about disclosure, reactions and consequent behaviors from partners, friends and family members were asked in both formats. Results: The literature reports that STI disclosure often results in relationships ending and promulgation of shame from family and friends, but most women reported supportive and caring reactions from almost every disclosure to partners, family members, and friends. As determined in a related analysis of the data, fear of “cancer” rather than “STI” posed the greatest source of anxiety for women. Disclosing a diagnosis that is related to increased risk of “cancer” as opposed to “STI” may explain why women received support. Conclusion: Because an HPV diagnosis provokes social and emotional responses emanating from its STI status, women may focus on the potential cancer issues when disclosing their HPV diagnosis to significant others to gain support rather than stigma.

Learning Objectives:

Keywords: STD, Cervical Cancer

Presenting author's disclosure statement:
I do not have any significant financial interest/arrangement or affiliation with any organization/institution whose products or services are being discussed in this session.

HPV: Clinician Practices and Women's Experiences

The 132nd Annual Meeting (November 6-10, 2004) of APHA