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 40 per cent 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.
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.’