Young women in the prime of their lives are not worried about getting cancer, but they are interested in preventing a sexually transmitted disease. Researchers from Ohio State University claim focusing on the ability of the HPV vaccine to prevent a nasty STD may prove to be a better selling point for young women, thus increasing the number of women receive the vaccination.

Currently, less than 20% of young women have been vaccinated against HPV, but researchers believe this number could be significantly increased if the message portrayed to young women was shifted from cancer to STD. Young women do not appear to be phased by the idea that HPV can cause cervical cancer, but there is a chance they will respond if they know HPV also causes an STD. 

HPV is responsible for the majority of genital warts cases. There is currently no cure for genital warts, though the condition can be treated aggressively with medications, laser treatment, and cryotherapy. The condition causes warts to appear in the genital area, though genital warts can affect the mouth and other areas of the body. The condition is passed from one person to another during sexual contact with a contraction risk of about 60% with just one sexual contact. Men and women between 17 and 33 are most commonly affected by genital warts. 

Researchers believe initial studies into selling HPV to women using the threat of cervical cancer were flawed. Women of all ages were included in the initial studies, but young women are the focus group for vaccination. Ohio States researchers recruited 188 college women (mean age 22 years) and 115 mothers of college women (mean age 50 years) for the study. About half of the women and mothers were given information on the HPV vaccine that focused on the prevention of cervical cancer and the other half focused on the prevention of genital warts. The genital warts message was more effective at convincing young women to talk to their doctors about the HPV vaccine, whereas the cancer prevention information was perceived as more important for mothers. 

Mothers may have difficulty coming to terms with the idea that their young daughters are having sex, but young women are more apt to respond to messages about STDs than cervical cancer prevention. Scaring young women with the word cancer is simply not as effective as experts once thought. 


Source: Janice L. Krieger, Melanie A. Sarge. A Serial Mediation Model of Message Framing on Intentions to Receive the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine: Revisiting the Role of Threat and Efficacy Perceptions. Health Communication, 2013; 28 (1): 5 DOI: 10.1080/10410236.2012.734914