Objectives To investigate whether UK websites about cervical cancer screening targeted to the public include (1) information about benefits and risks of screening, possible screening results and cervical cancer statistics, (2) quantitative presentation formats recommended in the risk communication literature and (3) appeals for participation and/or informed decision-making.
Design Cross-sectional analysis of websites using a comprehensive checklist of information items on screening benefits, risks, possible results and cervical cancer statistics.
Outcome measures We recorded the number of websites that contained each of the information items, and the presentation format used for probabilistic information (no quantification provided, verbal quantifiers only, different types of numerical formats and/or graphs). We also recorded the number of websites containing appeals for participation and/or informed decision-making.
Setting Websites were identified through the most common Google search terms used in the UK to find information on cervical screening, according to GoogleTrends and a commercial internet-monitoring programme. Two additional websites were identified by the authors as relevant.
Results After applying exclusion criteria, 14 websites were evaluated, including websites of public and private health service providers, charities, a medical society and a pharmacy. The websites mentioned different benefits, risks of screening and possible results. However, specific content varied between websites. Probabilistic information was often presented using non-recommended formats, including relative risk reductions to express screening benefits, and verbal quantifiers without numbers to express risks. Appeals for participation were present in most websites, with almost half also mentioning informed decision-making.
Conclusions UK websites about cervical cancer screening were generally balanced. However, benefits and risks were presented using different formats, potentially hindering comparisons. Additionally, recommendations from the literature to facilitate understanding of quantitative information and facilitate informed decisions were often not followed. Designing websites that adhere to existing recommendations may support informed screening uptake.
- cervical cancer screening
- informed decision-making
- risk communication
- risk perception
- web analysis
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Contributors YO conceived the research, acquired and analysed the data, and drafted the initial version of the manuscript. SGS assisted with data analyses and interpretation. WBdB contributed to data interpretation. All authors contributed to study design, revised the manuscript critically and approved the final version.
Funding This work was supported by a Population Research Fellowship awarded by Cancer Research UK to Yasmina Okan (reference C57775/A22182). SS is supported by Yorkshire Cancer Research. WBdB was partially supported by a grant from the Swedish Riksbanken Jubilieumsfond programme on Science and Proven Experience.
Disclaimer The funding agencies had no involvement in designing the study, data collection, analysis and interpretation, writing the report, or the decision to submit the article for publication.
Competing interests SGS is an academic consultant for Luto, who are not involved in any of the websites reviewed in this manuscript.
Patient consent for publication Not required.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
Data availability statement Data are available in a public, open access repository.