Health professionals experiences of discussing HPV with head and neck cancer patients: a qualitative study

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Publication date: 
August, 2018
Presentation type: 
Oral presentation
Related staff: 
Dr Mairead O'Connor (former staff)

Objectives: The prevalence of human papillomavirus (HPV) associated head and neck cancer (HNC) is increasing worldwide. We explored health professionals’ experiences of discussing HPV with HNC patients in Ireland.

Design: A qualitative interview study.

Methods: Interviews were conducted with 20 health professionals working with HNC patients. Thematic analysis using the Framework Approach was used to analyse verbatim transcripts.

Results: Surgeons and oncologists felt it was beneficial to talk to patients about HPV when initially discussing their cancer diagnosis (particularly in the context of better prognosis). HCPs seeing patients further into their cancer management (e.g. dental surgeons) were less likely to see a need to discuss HPV; issues like side-effects of treatment took precedence.  Levels of comfort around discussing HPV varied, with some saying they were uncomfortable due to the sexual nature of HPV transmission; others did not distinguish between talking about HPV and other causal factors like smoking and drinking. Perceived barriers to discussing HPV included: lack of privacy in busy clinics, lack of confidence in one’s HPV knowledge and a partner/family member being present with the patient. Many HPCs perceived public awareness of HPV and head and neck cancer as inadequate, making it difficult to discuss with patients. Patients rarely initiated discussions or asked questions about HPV.

Conclusions: As far as we are aware, this is the first study of its kind to be conducted in Ireland. The findings may be useful in developing information resources around HPV and head and neck cancer for both patients and health professionals.

Published abstract: 
O’Connor M, Waller J, Gallagher P, Keogh I, MacCarthy D, O’Sullivan E, Timon C, Martin C, O’Leary J, and Sharp L, on behalf of the Irish Cervical Screening Research Consortium (CERVIVA)
O'Connor M
Conference/meeting title: 
15th Annual Psychology, Health & Medicine Conference
Event date: 
1 Jun 2018
Coleraine, Northern Ireland

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