And yet, a great deal of unnecessary shame surrounds HPV and smear test results. Research by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust for Cervical Cancer Awareness Week this week (17-23 January) found that over 70% of women surveyed had a HPV diagnosis, many of which expressed feelings of guilt, confusion, and anger or concerns about relationships and infidelity as a result.
A third (34%) reported feeling anxious or worried and 35% spoke of shame, embarrassment or feeling dirty.
I was scolded and shamed for my decision.
The King's College London study found that the HPV vaccination programme “prevented around 450 cervical cancers and around 17,200 pre-cancers by the middle of 2019,” with Dr Vanessa Saliba, Consultant Epidemiologist in Immunisations at Public Health England, saying:
“These remarkable findings confirm that the HPV vaccine saves lives by dramatically reducing cervical cancer rates among women. This reminds us that vaccines are one of the most important tools we have to help us live longer, healthier lives."
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) causes cell changes. Cervical screening has been found to help prevent cervical cancer by identifying infection and abnormal cells, which can be monitored or treated to stop cancer developing.
With more than half a million smear tests delayed or missed during the pandemic, recognising the symptoms yourself is absolutely pivotal.
Under normal circumstances, 1.5 million appointments (!!!) are skipped each year due to fear, body consciousness, embarrassment or 'packed schedules', but anxiety around catching coronavirus has seen attendance plummet even further. Only half of eligible patients are attending their smear test in some parts of the UK.
Around 220,000 women are diagnosed every year following cervical screening, according to Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, however over a quarter (26%) of those surveyed said they felt ashamed when diagnosed.
“Over 21,000 women in the UK are diagnosed with a gynaecological cancer (ovarian, cervical, womb, vaginal and vulval) every year, but awareness of their signs and symptoms is low," explains Dr John Butler, gynaecological surgeon at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG). "It’s vital women of all ages get to know their bodies and what to look for as the earlier a cancer is found, the easier it is to treat and the higher the chance of successful treatment."
One woman's powerful story.
Every single day, 58 women in the UK receive a life-changing gynaecological cancer diagnosis. Out of those 58 women, 21 of them will die. That's why it's never been so important to understand the first symptoms of cancer and why we need to start talking about gynaecological health a lot more openly.
Leading gynaecological cancer awareness brands have been searching for ways of ensuring the information we need reaches us, to ensure we're armed with the signs and symptoms that can aid the detection and treatment of gynaecological cancers early.
The good news is up to 93% of cervical cancers are preventable through proper screening, so health professionals are desperate to make us all aware of just how life-saving cervical screenings can be.
“It is estimated that the smear test program, with proper treatment of the pre-cancerous changes that are sometimes found, saves the lives of up to 5,000 women per year, who would otherwise have died of future cervical cancer," explains Andrew Pooley, Gynaecologist at New Victoria Hospital.