Introduction: Identifying DNA of Human papillomavirus (HPV) among asymptomatic women has been proposed as a new screening method for cervical cancer control. Screening programs must be preceded by health education. Traditionally, health education is based on scientific information without considering any community cognitive processes. This paper studies HPV social representations constructed upon social interaction between men and women over 25 years of age, living in Bogotá, Colombia. The outcomes will be used as groundwork for an education strategy to promote HPV testing within a primary screening program.

Methods: It is a qualitative study based upon symbolic interaccionism. Inter individual communication is precisely the ground where a framework of references is constructed and social representations emerge. Focus group selection was planned using a theoretical population sample. Twelve focus groups were held with 124 men and women from diverse educational status. Information source analysis and graphic analysis of significants were performed.

Results: Social representation of HPV involves a series of figurative nuclei that arose from associated meanings linked to scientific information. While women focused on symbols associated to contagion; men focused on its venereal character. Negative feelings were expressed particularly among women with a history of one sexual partner. Figurative nuclei also included long‐term uncertainty, need or urgent treatment and feelings of imminent death that are associated to cancer and chronic sexually transmitted infections. The social representation burden of HPV impeded many participants from clearly understanding written information about HPV transmission, clearance and cancer risk.

Conclusion: HPV social representations are built into a whole framework of values, which must be deconstructed to allow women full participation in HPV screening programs and to prevent psychosocial adverse effects. Delivering scientific information may not be enough for achieving this purpose. Shared decision making is a communication strategy that must be promoted for anticipatory discussion on HPV‐DNA testing to be able to deconstruct different values and meanings particularly its association with promiscuity and venereal diseases.

Citation Information: Cancer Prev Res 2010;3(1 Suppl):B27.