Application of a Health Literacy Framework to Explore Patients’ Knowledge of the Link between HPV and Cancer

Alicia L. Best, Rachel G. Logan, Coralia Vázquez-Otero, Whitney Fung, Vanessa Chee, Erika L. Thompson, Seiichi Villalona, Lora M.A. Thompson, Clement K. Gwede, Ellen M. Daley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted infection and causes most oropharyngeal (e.g., throat) and anogenital (e.g., anal, cervical) cancers. Research indicates low knowledge about the link between HPV and cancer among the general population, and similar low knowledge of HPV among individuals diagnosed with HPV-associated cancers. This is important because HPV status can have implications for treatment, prognosis, and future sexual decisions. Using a health literacy framework, this study explored how patients diagnosed with HPV-associated cancers accessed, understood, appraised, and applied HPV information. We conducted 27 in-depth interviews with patients seeking care at a comprehensive cancer center; and data were analyzed using applied thematic analysis. Findings revealed that patients’ primary source of HPV information was medical providers (access); and many patients exhibited limited understanding of HPV and its role in their cancer diagnosis (understand). Most patients (17 of 27) did not mention HPV as the cause of their cancer. Many patients displayed difficulty connecting HPV with their lifestyles (appraise); and few discussed plans to engage in HPV prevention practices going forward (apply). Future research should focus on strategies to improve understanding of HPV which could increase vaccine uptake, reduce stigma, and enhance informed decision-making among HPV-associated cancer patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)695-702
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Health Communication
Issue number8
StatePublished - 3 Aug 2018


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