Myths about HPV make women feel ‘ashamed’ and ‘terrified’

Misconceptions and lack of knowledge about HPV are causing women to feel “embarrassed” and “intimidated” during cervical screening, according to new research.

A study by the Jose Cervical Cancer Trust found that only half of those who are told they have human papillomavirus (HPV) after cervical screening understand what the infection is, many believe. that it is more serious than that.

Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV – an infection that is very common, and which about eight in 10 people in the UK will contract at some point in their lives, but can now be vaccinated against.

While it is rare for women to be diagnosed with cervical cancer, with only 3,200 diagnoses each year in the UK, HPV is almost as common as the cold virus. The body usually clears HPV without causing harm, but a deep stigma remains about the infection.

The leading charity, which surveyed 857 people with HPV, found that more than eight out of 10 people who are told they have HPV are afraid they have cancer.

Nearly seven out of 10 surveyed said they feel anxious, while four in 10 said they feel ashamed. The study found that women regularly said they felt confused, embarrassed, and intimidated.

Sam Dixon, chief executive of the Jose Cervical Cancer Trust, said: “The increase in cervical screening attendance remains significant, but we should not overlook the support that is often needed after testing. HPV is so common and yet affected people tell us that they often feel isolated.

“We regularly hear about those three letters causing anxiety, worry, and even relationship breakdown. A growing understanding of HPV must go hand in hand with cervical screening awareness so that everyone can share their results. understand, and this very common thing becomes normal.”

The charity warned that false beliefs linking HPV to sexually transmitted infections could raise concerns about “involvement” and “infidelity” – frontline workers at the charity regularly hear that the diagnosis caused couples to break up. Huh.

Dr Anita Mitra, an academic specialty registrar in obstetrics and gynecology, said: “I often meet patients who are too scared to receive their cervical screening results, telling them they have HPV.

“I always describe it as the common cold that you get on your cervix; most of us are going to get it at some point, and most infections go on their own without causing long-term health problems. You get well soon.

“However, if HPV is not cleared it can lead to changes in the cervix, including cervical cancer. And that’s why we screen for HPV as part of a cervical screening test. It’s also important to be clear.” that it is not indicative of complicity, infidelity or poor hygiene.”

She called anyone who is eager to discuss their fears with a health care professional so they can help them.

The research found that nearly four in 10 said they were eager to tell their partner that they had HPV, and about two in 10 were scared that their partner had cheated on them. And half of all those surveyed were concerned about sex and intimacy after being diagnosed with HPV.

Both women and men can be infected, but many women are not aware of it, with the charity warning that because there is no HPV test for men, women are often burdened with the “emotional stress of an HPV diagnosis”. goes.

The HPV vaccine is now provided to children across the UK and is expected to save many lives.

Cervical screening, more commonly known as a smear test, helps pick up early signs of cell changes in the cervix that may turn into cancer.

However, data from last year shows that less than three-quarters of all women called for cervical screening have taken the invitation – the attendance rate for screening is higher for younger women and those living in more disadvantaged areas. The middle is too low.


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