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Exploring Reasons for Variations in Anxiety After Testing Positive for Human Papillomavirus with Normal Cytology: A Comparative Qualitative Study

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Emily McBride, Laura A.V. Marlow, Kirsty F. Bennett, Selma Stearns, Jo Waller

Original languageEnglish
Published9 Sep 2020

King's Authors


Objective: To explore reasons for variations in anxiety in women testing positive for human papillomavirus (HPV) with normal cytology at routine HPV primary cervical cancer screening. Methods: In-depth interviews were conducted with 30 women who had tested HPV-positive with normal cytology, including 15 with low-to-normal anxiety and 15 with high anxiety. Data were analysed using Framework Analysis to compare themes between low and high anxiety groups. Results: Several HPV-related themes were shared across anxiety groups, but only highly anxious women expressed fear and worry, fatalistic cognitions about cancer, fertility-related cognitions, adverse physiological responses and changes in health behaviour(s). In comparison to those with low anxiety, women with high anxiety more strongly voiced cognitions about the 12-month wait for follow-up screening, relationship infidelity, a lower internal locus of control and HPV-related symptom attributions. Conclusions: Receiving an HPV-positive with normal cytology result related to various emotional, cognitive, behavioural and physiological responses; some of which were specific to, or more pronounced in, women with high anxiety. If our observations are confirmed in hypothesis-driven quantitative studies, the identification of distinct themes relevant to women experiencing high anxiety can inform targeted patient communications and HPV primary screening implementation policy.

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