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Open Access Research

Applying a gender lens on human papillomavirus infection: cervical cancer screening, HPV DNA testing, and HPV vaccination

Ivan Branković1*, Petra Verdonk2 and Ineke Klinge3

Author Affiliations

1 Institute for Public Health Genomics, Department of Genetics and Cell Biology, FHML, School CAPHRI, Maastricht University, PO Box 616, MD 6200, Maastricht, The Netherlands

2 Department of Medical Humanities, EMGO, Institute for Health and Care Research, School of Medical Science, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

3 Department of Health, Ethics and Society, FHML, School CAPHRI, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands

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International Journal for Equity in Health 2013, 12:14  doi:10.1186/1475-9276-12-14

Published: 8 February 2013

Abstract

Background

Our aim is to provide a state-of-the-art overview of knowledge on sex (biological) and gender (sociocultural) aspects of Human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer for educational purposes. Considerable disparities exist in cervical cancer incidences between different subgroups of women. We provide an outline on the crucial issues and debates based on the recent literature published in leading gender medicine journals. Intersectionality was applied in order to help categorise the knowledge.

Methods

Key terms (HPV, cervical cancer) were screened in Gender Medicine, Journal of Women’s Health and Women & Health from January 2005-June 2012. Additional searches were conducted for topics insufficiently mentioned, such as HPV vaccination of boys. In total, 71 publications were included (56 original papers, four reviews, six reports, three commentaries, one editorial and one policy statement).

Results

Research reveals complexity in the way various subgroups of women adhere to cervical screening. Less educated women, older women, uninsured women, homeless women, migrant women facing language barriers, women who have sex with women and obese women participate in Pap smears less frequently. A series of barriers can act to impede decisions to vaccinate against HPV.

Conclusions

Both male and female controlled preventive methods and treatment measures should be developed in order to tackle HPV infection and different strategies are needed for different subgroups. A substantial discussion and research on alternative methods of prevention was and is lacking. In future research, sex and gender aspects of HPV-related diseases of boys and men as well as subgroup differences in HPV risk need to be addressed.

Keywords:
Gender; Human papillomavirus; HPV; HPV vaccine; Cervical cancer; Pap smear; HPV DNA testing; Intersectionality