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HPV screening creates new stigmas

Wednesday February 13th, 2019

Cervical cancer screening is increasingly using HPV testing – but this carries its own stigma that may deter women from taking part, researchers warn today.

Women worry about the implications of being found to be infected with the virus, according to research reported at a major cancer conference.

The survey was carried out by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust and presented at Cancer Research UK’s Early Diagnosis Conference in Birmingham today (13 February).

It asked more than 2,000 women their reasons for not undergoing the test. The reasons included raising fears about their partners’ fidelity and shame of perceived promiscuity.

Results included nearly 40% of women saying they would be worried about what people thought of them if told they had the human papilloma virus (HPV). A HPV diagnosis would cause 66% of women to fear it indicated cancer.

Most of the women had not been clearly informed about the overall rate of HPV infection, the fact there are high-risk versions, and that it can cause throat or mouth cancer.

“It’s really concerning that there’s so much misunderstanding about HPV,” said Sara Hiom, of Cancer Research UK. “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.

“Every woman has the choice whether to go for screening but busting the myths and removing the stigmas surrounding HPV is vital to ensure people feel more confident to book and turn up for their cervical screening appointment.”

She added that, in England, the existing cervical cancer screening test will soon change, beginning to look for HPV, although the procedure will not change.

Tags: Cancer | NHS | UK News | Women's Health & Gynaecology

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