Cuckfield Medical Practice joins Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust to increase low HPV awareness and eliminate stigma in cervical screening
Cuckfield Medical Practice is joining Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust during Cervical Screening Awareness Week in order to reduce confusion about HPV, and help everyone feel comfortable with their cervical screening results.
The number of service users coming to the charity has doubled over the last few years, in line with HPV primary screening being introduced through the UK. For many, the first time they saw the letters HPV was in their results letter.
Cervical cancer is rare with 3,200 diagnoses every year while HPV, the cause of the disease, is extremely common, affecting 8 in 10 in their lifetime. The body will normally clear the infection without it causing harm, however lack of awareness of the virus means many who have HPV fear they have cancer. Many members of its community report feeling anxious and ashamed.
Cervical screening in England, Scotland and Wales now uses HPV primary screening which is a more sensitive and accurate test than the previous testing method of looking for cell changes. It helps find those at higher risk of cervical cancer earlier. As a result more women and people with a cervix are learning they have the virus. Northern Ireland is yet to move and still uses cytology as the first test on samples.
The charity warns that unless HPV stigma and confusion is tackled, years of work to remove stigma in cervical screening risks being undone and thousands needlessly experience these feelings.
HPV has been the most popular topic on their expert clarification service for the last two years and 2nd most popular topic on their Helpline. The charity’s support services have also seen an increase in health anxiety relating to HPV.
Misconceptions around the nature of HPV, and its relation to sexually transmitted infections, can lead to concerns around promiscuity, infidelity and even relationship breakdown which Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust regularly hear through their services.
The charity and Cuckfield Medical Practice want to see an increase in education about HPV from an earlier age to reduce the impact across the life course. During Cervical Screening Awareness Week (14-20 June) it is encouraging conversation and sharing experiences about the virus in order to reduce isolation and anxiety.
Sam Dixon, Chief Executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust: “Cervical screening is a difficult test for many, from those who experience pain to those with experience of trauma or who have gaps in understanding about what the test is for. COVID-19 has provided further hurdles. Increasing cervical screening attendance remains vital but we must not overlook the support that is often required after the test. Increasing HPV understanding must go hand in hand with cervical screening awareness so that everyone understands their results, and this very normal thing becomes normalised.”
Laura Carter, 32, Manchester was diagnosed with HPV and cervical cell changes in May 2021:
“I was totally confused when I was diagnosed with HPV following a smear test, as previously I had always received normal results and hadn’t been sexually active in two years. When I looked into it, I cried all morning and just panicked as the first thing you see is cancer. I attended a follow up smear test one year later, which showed that I still had HPV and it had now caused cervical cell changes. I had to have some difficult conversations with people who thought I’d been diagnosed because I wasn’t having safe sex which absolutely isn’t the case and felt really judged. It really is an education piece. The fear and stigma around HPV stopped me from talking to people about what was happening to me when I needed support. But smear tests are so important, they save lives and we should talk about them as much as possible.”
Cervical Screening Awareness Week runs from 14th – 20th June 2021 by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust. More details are available at www.jostrust.org.uk/csaw
- Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is the UK’s leading cervical cancer charity. It provides information and support to anyone affected and campaigns for excellence in cervical cancer treatment, care and prevention. Its national Helpline is free, confidential and on 0808 802 8000