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Incarcerated women's HPV awareness, beliefs, and experiences

Tyson Pankey (Department of Counseling Psychology, University of Wisconsin - Madison, Madison, WI, USA)
Megha Ramaswamy (Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health, University of Kansas School of Medicine, Kansas City, Kansas, USA)

International Journal of Prisoner Health

ISSN: 1744-9200

Article publication date: 16 March 2015



The purpose of this paper is to explore incarcerated women's awareness, beliefs, and experiences with human papillomavirus (HPV) infection and vaccination.


Researchers conducted focus groups with 45 incarcerated women in an urban Midwestern US jail to assess how women talked about their Papanicolaou (Pap) test screening and abnormal Pap test follow-up experiences. Some focus group questions specifically assessed individual awareness, beliefs, and experiences with HPV infection and vaccination. Based on these data, the authors described participants’ awareness of HPV, as well as used open coding to ultimately extract themes related to beliefs and experiences with HPV infection and vaccine.


While all 45 participants reported experiencing an abnormal Pap test event within the last five years, only two-thirds of participants (n=30) reported having heard of the HPV infection. Several themes emerged from the analysis of the data: the women's beliefs about cause and severity of HPV; frustration with age requirements of the vaccine; varied experiences with vaccinations for themselves and their children; the impact of media exposure on knowledge; and desire for more HPV infection and vaccine information.


Incarcerated women's awareness and limited experiences with HPV infection and vaccination may be a barrier to adequate screening and cervical cancer prevention. This study has implications for the development of cervical health education for this high-risk group of women, who are four to five times as likely to have cervical cancer as non-incarcerated women.



Data collection for this manuscript was supported by NCI 1R03CA162869-01, “Understanding the Cervical Cancer Health Gap for Women in Jail.”


Pankey, T. and Ramaswamy, M. (2015), "Incarcerated women's HPV awareness, beliefs, and experiences", International Journal of Prisoner Health, Vol. 11 No. 1, pp. 49-58.



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