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Concerns about disclosing a high-risk cervical human papillomavirus (HPV) infection to a sexual partner: a systematic review and thematic synthesis
  1. Kirsty F Bennett1,
  2. Jo Waller1,2,
  3. Mairead Ryan1,
  4. Julia V Bailey3,
  5. Laura A V Marlow1,2
  1. 1 Cancer Communication and Screening Group, Department of Behavioural Science and Health, University College London, London, UK
  2. 2 Cancer Prevention Group, School of Cancer and Pharmaceutical Sciences, King's College London, London, UK
  3. 3 e-Health Unit, Department of Primary Care and Population Health, University College London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Laura A V Marlow, School of Cancer & Pharmaceutical Sciences, King's College London, London SE1 9RT, UK; l.marlow{at}


Background Human papillomavirus (HPV)-based cervical screening is now replacing cytology-based screening in several countries and many women in screening programmes will consequently receive HPV-positive results. Because of the sexually transmitted nature of HPV, receiving an HPV-positive result may raise questions about disclosing the infection to a sexual partner.

Objective To review the quantitative and qualitative literature exploring women’s concerns about disclosing a high-risk cervical HPV infection to a sexual partner.

Methods We searched MEDLINE, PsycINFO, CINAHL Plus, Web of Science and EMBASE for studies reporting at least one disclosure-related outcome among women with high-risk HPV. We also searched the grey literature and carried out forward/backward citation searches. A narrative synthesis for quantitative studies and a thematic synthesis for qualitative studies were conducted.

Results Thirteen articles met the inclusion criteria (12 qualitative, 1 quantitative). In the quantitative study, 60% of HPV-positive women felt disclosing an HPV result was ‘risky’. Concerns about disclosing HPV to a sexual partner were influenced by the stigma that is associated with having an STI and uncertainty about how their partner would respond. Women questioned how, when and to whom they should disclose their HPV-positive status.

Conclusions The studies included in this review provide rich information about the range of concerns women have, the reasons for these concerns, and the questions women have about disclosing HPV to sexual partners. As studies were predominantly qualitative, the prevalence of concerns is unclear.

  • cervical screening
  • human papillomavirus
  • sexually transmitted infections

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  • Contributors KFB, JW and LAVM conceived the study and developed the search strategy. KFB and MR screened articles, extracted data and conducted quality appraisals. KFB and LAVM interpreted the data. All the authors were involved in contributing to the study design and drafting the manuscript.

  • Funding KFB is funded by a Medical Research Council (MRC) studentship (Grant Reference: MR/N013867/1). JW, MR and LAVM are funded by a Cancer Research UK career development fellowship awarded to JW (Grant Reference: C7492/A17219).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.