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Written on 22nd January 2020 by Fran Rothwell

Q & A with Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust

Cervical Cancer Prevention Week runs from 20 – 26 January 2020 and Boyes Turner is supporting cervical cancer charity, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust (Jo’s), in raising awareness about cervical cancer.

The theme of this year’s prevention week is #smearforsmear. Regular cervical screening by smear tests can prevent cervical cancer by identifying worrying signs early enough for them to be treated before they worsen or spread. Having seen for ourselves the distress and disability that can be caused by delayed diagnosis and treatment of cancer we wholeheartedly encourage women to attend smear tests when these are due. Smear tests are usually quick and painless, but many women still find the prospect of having a smear test daunting. We hope that by providing women with more information, we can help them feel confident in booking their appointment and give them the knowledge they need to understand their results.

Fran Rothwell asked Jo’s some questions about cervical cancer, its closely linked virus called HPV, and what to do if you are nervous about attending your smear test.

What is HPV?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common virus. It infects the skin and any moist membrane (mucosa), such as:

  • the lining of the mouth and throat
  • the cervix
  • the vagina, vulva and anus

How do people contract HPV and will I know if I have contracted it?

You are at risk of getting HPV from any, (even your first) sexual contact, whether or not any form of penetrative sex takes place involving the vagina, anus or mouth. It is not a sign of promiscuity - anybody who has ever had any kind of sexual contact is at risk of getting HPV.

Why are women now tested for high-risk HPV at cervical screening?

HPV primary screening is the best way to find out who is at higher risk of developing cervical cell changes or cervical cancer. Almost all cervical cancers are linked to high-risk HPV. By knowing who has high-risk HPV, we can make sure that we monitor the virus and find any cell changes early, before they potentially develop into cervical cancer.

HPV primary screening is a more accurate test than cytology. This means it is better at detecting cell changes overall, as well as detecting them earlier.

HPV primary screening could be done with a self-sample kit in the future. This would mean you could take a swab from your vagina, in the privacy of your home. There is ongoing research to find out whether self-sampling could be offered as part of the NHS national screening programme.

If I have high-risk HPV does that mean I will get cervical cancer?

The short answer is no. About 9 in 10 people get rid of HPV within 2 years without it causing any problems. This includes high-risk HPV that is linked to cancer.

What is the HPV vaccine? Who should receive it and why?

The HPV vaccine protects against:

  • high-risk types of HPV (strains 16 and 18) that can cause cancer, including about 7 in 10 (70%) of all cervical cancers;
  • types of low-risk HPV that cause about 9 in 10 (90%) of genital warts.

Having the HPV vaccine means you are at lower risk of developing these cancers and other HPV-related conditions.

In the past, the HPV vaccine was only available to girls. But from September 2019, it has been offered free in schools to girls and boys:

  • aged 11 to 12 in Scotland;
  • aged 12 to 13 in the rest of the UK.

I am nervous about going for a smear test. What do I need to know about smear tests and how can I prepare for one?

Anxiety can make attending a smear test very hard, although it is usually over in a few minutes. Smear tests provide the best protection against cervical cancer, so it is extremely important that nurses are aware of the barriers women face and and take steps to minimise distress or anxiety. Jo’s Trust has an excellent blog with some great tips to help women feel better about going for their smear, including:

  • Remember that cervical cancer is rare. 
  • The nurses are experts. Your nurse will have done many tests before and won’t care what underwear you are wearing, what your body shape is or about your sexual history.
  • Talk to your nurse. Explain how you are feeling and ask as many questions as you need.
  • Say stop at any time if you need to.
  • Use relaxation and distraction techniques.
  • And breathe!  
  • Wear a skirt
  • Reward your efforts!

Join us and Jo’s Trust, this Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, in urging female friends and family to #ReduceYourRisk and in promoting cervical cancer prevention by posting your lipstick #SmearForSmear selfie. For details on how to get involved visit Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust website.