Women are being put off cervical screening over fears the results could suggest they or their partners have been cheating, a survey has found.
Experts from charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust have warned that a sense of ‘shame’ from being diagnosed with human papilloma virus (HPV) – the virus responsible for most cervical cancer cases – is adding to the anxiety of smear tests.
They said the infection, which affects eight out of ten women at some point in their lives, must be ‘normalised’ to encourage more women to attend life-saving screening.
The survey of more than 2,000 women found nearly one in four said they would be worried about what people thought of them if told they had HPV and slightly more said they would worry their partner had been unfaithful.
Women are being put off cervical screening over fears the results could suggest they or their partners have been cheating, a survey has found
Seven in ten said they would be scared to hear they had HPV and two-thirds would worry it meant they had cancer.
But the charity’s findings also showed many respondents did not understand the link between HPV and cancer.
A third said they did not know the virus, which can be dormant, could cause cervical cancer and almost all were unaware of its links to throat or mouth cancer.
Campaigners said the findings were particularly worrying given the new HPV screening will replace the existing cervical cancer test later this year. It means samples will first be checked for high-risk strands of the virus before being sent for further examination if necessary.
Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Trust, said: ‘With the screening programme moving to testing for HPV first, which is to be celebrated, we must normalise the virus to ensure people fully understand what it means to have it.’
The report, revealed today at the Cancer Research UK Early Diagnosis conference, comes weeks after Public Health England launched a campaign to encourage women to go for screening, with rates at an all-time low.
Attendance has fallen to just 71 per cent, with 5million women currently overdue for testing. This has fallen from a high of 75.7 per cent in 2011 – two years after the death of reality TV star Jade Goody at the age of 27 – and is at its lowest rate since records began.
About 1,000 British women die from cervical cancer every year but experts say another 2,000 would be killed without the screening programme.
Sara Hiom, a director at Cancer Research UK, said: ‘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.’