Dr Anita Mitra blogs about HPV for Cervical Cancer Prevention Week

HPV: All Adventurous Women Do…


I really hate calling people out, but I’m afraid the writers of the American TV series ‘Girls’ staring Lena Dunham got that line a little wrong. It should read ‘HPV: pretty much ALL women do; adventurous or not’. At least 80% of women will get HPV at some point during their life, to put a figure on it.

HPV stands for human papillomavirus. It’s a tiny little virus that can cause cervical cancer, but before it gets round to that, we know that it causes precancerous abnormalities that can be picked up by a smear test and treated. This is a very effective way of preventing cervical cancer. But it’s only effective if you go for your smear test in the first place.

I’m so excited to be teaming up with The Eve Appeal for Cervical Cancer Prevention Week and setting the record straight. There’s too much false information out there around who can get HPV, what it means to have HPV and how HPV and smear tests link together.

I’ve come across so many women who don’t think they need to go for a smear test because they’re not promiscuous/always use condoms/have been with their partner for years and years/their partner is female…

None of these are reasons to not have a smear test I’m afraid. The reason these misconceptions seem to exist is that HPV is wrongly touted as a sexually transmitted disease. HPV is an infection, and sex gets it to the right place.

I’ve had many a woman crying in my clinic due to the fact that she’s had an abnormal smear and is worried that her boyfriend, long-term partner, or father of her three children is cheating on her… Unlike STI’s such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea, HPV is everywhere! It’s on our hands, our skin…studies have even shown that you can get it from yourself. This is something called autoinoculation, whereby you have HPV on the skin of your genitals, and then having sex transports the virus to your cervix. A self-STI!? The irony! The number of marriages I must have saved with that little gem of information! Some women don’t even mention the suggestion of infidelity, but I always try and drop it in for reassurance and there’s usually a big sigh of relief, so it clearly crosses many women’s minds.

Even if you’ve been ‘out of action’ for a long time it’s still important to go because the virus can take several years to cause abnormalities and can even lie dormant. This is one of the reasons that we see a second peak of cervical cancers being diagnosed around 55-60 years of age (the first being around 35 years). Therefore, I encourage you to ensure your Mum, Aunt, Grandma and so on, are also up to date with their smears.

So as you can see, there isn’t unfortunately a terribly good excuse for any of us to be skipping screening. If you’re over 25, have a cervix and have ever had any form of sex, I strongly advise you to keep up to date with your smears, as the best way of preventing a highly preventable disease.