During Cervical Cancer Prevention Week Boyes Turner are supporting cervical cancer charity, Jo’s Trust, in raising awareness about cervical cancer. The theme of this year’s prevention week is “Reduce Your Risk”, and that of those you care for, by understanding how this devastating condition can be recognised, treated and prevented.
We now know that the vast majority of cervical cancer cases are caused by HPV, or the human papilloma virus, an infection passed on by any form of sexual contact. So, let’s be clear about a few facts at the outset:
- 80% of people will be infected with a genital HPV infection at some time in their lives.
- Your first or only sexual contact with anyone at all can put you at risk.
- HPV infection does not imply sexual promiscuity or infidelity.
The problem with HPV is that, whilst it is very common, it is a symptomless infection. It can go undetected in the body for many years. Some people’s strong immune systems enable them to clear themselves naturally of HPV. It is not known why some people’s bodies can and others’ can’t. In those who clear the infection, it can take about 12 to 18 months. Smoking is also known to inhibit the body’s ability to clear itself of HPV. When most people with HPV are unaware that they have been infected, it is not surprising that the infection is so widespread. It should be noted that merely having HPV does not in itself warrant treatment, but the silent yet prevalent existence of the infection makes screening for cervical cancer all the more important.
Most forms of HPV are harmless but some high-risk strains can cause changes in the cells of the cervix which, if undetected and treated, will ultimately lead to cervical cancer. If a smear test reveals abnormal cells and high-risk HPV you may be recalled for further examination.
Jo’s Trust estimates that 70% of cervical cancers are caused by just two high-risk types of HPV, both of which can now be prevented (in people who have not previously been infected) by HPV vaccinations which are currently available to girls on the NHS. In 2008 the NHS introduced free, routine HPV immunisation for girls aged 12 to 13, in the hope of protecting them from HPV before they become sexually active. Offered in schools but also available through GP surgeries, the vaccines are over 98% effective in preventing cervical abnormalities associated with the two high-risk HPV strains in women who have the full dose, and in preventing infection with new strains or reinfection of a cleared HPV. They are not effective where the person is already infected with HPV, which is why the NHS is offering immunisation to girls at such a young age.
With research indicating that the HPV vaccine could prevent two thirds of cervical cancers in women under the age of 30 by 2025, assuming 80% take-up of the vaccination, which is now being consistently achieved, there is good reason for optimism that we will succeed in overcoming this devastating condition.
Join us and Jo’s Trust, this Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, in urging female friends and family to #ReduceYourRisk and join us in promoting cervical cancer prevention by posting your lipstick #SmearForSmear selfie. For details on how to get involved, click here.