A recent article in The Guardian claimed that a clinical trial in Australia demonstrated that screening for the human papillomavirus (HPV) is significantly better at detecting potential precancerous cells than the traditional cervical smear.
At The Eve Appeal we believe that this is excellent news, as this new method can potentially reduce the number of women affected by a cervical cancer. We have known for decades that cervical cancer is caused by infection with the High Risk Human Papilloma Virus (HRHPV) – one of a family of about HPV 100 virus strains which can infect skin and mucous membranes. These different sub-types of HPV are denoted by number and can affect different parts of the body, including causing warts, verruca’s and more specifically, genital warts.
Some sub-types, the most common of which are HPV 16 and 18 can infect the cervix where they cause no visible lesions, but can lead to an increased risk of cervical cancer. Infection with HRHPV, which is transmitted by sexual contact, is very common, affecting 4 out of 5 women at some stage in their lives. Although it is worth noting that in most cases, it causes no harm and clears up after a short period of time.
However, in some women, for reasons we do not fully understand, the infection persists and it is this persistence that leads to the cell changes that if left undetected and untreated can lead to cervical cancer. We cannot treat HRHPV infection, but we can treat the cell changes it causes and this has been the basis of cervical screening (smear tests) for several years.
Yet there are many ways women can help to reduce their risk of cervical cancer, including a vaccination against HRHPV. The cervical screening system in England and Wales has been hugely successful and saves up to 5,000 lives a year. However, recent evidence has shown a decline in the number of women attending for screening and embarrassment and lack of time are two common reasons cited for his.
Yet, women can self-test for HPV so if this method is adopted, it will remove two of the most common obstacles to screening – time and embarrassment. In addition, the better detection rates of pre-cancer, which is fully treatable, will mean fewer woman will go on to develop cervical cancer
We await developments with optimism, but in the meantime, we want to encourage every woman who is due for their cervical screening to attend – it could just save your life.
If you’d like to find out more about cervical cancer, and the associated signs and symptoms, please visit our dedicated cervical cancer information.
Case Study: Karen Hobbs
Karen Hobbs was diagnosed with cervical cancer at just 24 – after experiencing bleeding in-between periods and heavily after sex.
“At 24 I had just started my third year at Birkbeck University, studying for a Drama and Theatre degree, working in an office to stay financially afloat and planning my future as a comedy writer and actress. Then my world was turned upside down. I was diagnosed with cervical cancer.”
Here, Karen shares her story, in the hope that others who may be experiencing similar symptoms will visit their GP.