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'Stigmas' slowing HPV progress

14 February 2019 09:07

HPV will affect 8 in 10 women during their lifetime

HPV will affect 8 in 10 women during their lifetime

The "concerning" level of stigma surrounding the human papilloma virus (HPV) could be putting some women off going for vital check-ups, campaigners are warning.

Leading charity Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust said misunderstandings about the virus are commonplace, which have led to high levels of misplaced "fear of shame" amongst women.

The warnings come after the charity surveyed more than 2,000 women on HPV, a common infection spread through skin-to-skin contact usually during penetrative or oral sex.

High-risk types

Eight in 10 women will have some form of HPV infection in their lifetime, but only very few who have specific high-risk types of the virus will go on to develop cancer.

At present, around 2,500 women in England are told they have cervical cancer each year.

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK's director of early diagnosis, said "busting the myths and removing the stigmas" surrounding HPV is vital to ensuring people feel more confident about going for screening.

She said: "It is really concerning that there's so much misunderstanding about HPV. It's a very common virus and most of the time, it will sit dormant and not cause a problem.

"Testing for the virus is a better way to identify people who may have changes in their cervix, which, if left untreated, could develop into cervical cancer.

"So, HPV screening is an excellent way to prevent cervical cancer from developing in the first place."

Only 15% of the women who took part in the survey realised HPV was commonplace, while a third of the women did not know HPV can cause cervical cancer.

Almost all did not know it can cause throat or mouth cancer.

Social stigmas

The research also suggested social stigmas and myths surrounding HPV could make women anxious, including raising fears about their partner's fidelity and putting them off going for cervical screening.

Almost 40% said they would be worried about what people thought of them if told they had HPV and more than 40% would worry their partner had been unfaithful.

Some 70% said they would be scared to hear they had HPV and two-thirds said they would worry it meant they had cancer.

The research was presented at Cancer Research UK's Early Diagnosis Conference in Birmingham.

A new cervical cancer screening regime is being rolled out across the NHS with hopes it will cut the number of women diagnosed each year by a fifth.

The new way of testing, which looks for HPV first, was found to be much more accurate than current smear tests in picking up abnormal changes to cells that could lead to cervical cancer.

Furthermore, it means that women who are known to be low risk could safely have cervical screening every five years rather than the current three.

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