‘Worry & confusion’ about new HPV tests

Research reveals large scale lack of awareness about HPV and cervical cancer ahead of new tests

Friday 10th May 2019

Many women in Scotland are unaware of Human papillomavirus (HPV) and its potential to cause cervical cancer, according to research by Scotland’s public health agency into public attitudes to new tests being brought in next year.

The Scottish Government plans to introduce a new form of HPV testing to the cervical screening process in early 2020.

Women will see no changes to the usual testing regime but the new procedures will mean the virus, which causes 99% of cervical cancers, can be detected more accurately and at an earlier stage.

Every three or five years, women from the ages of 25 to 64 are invited for screening tests that pick up cell changes which, if not treated, could lead to cervical cancer, the most common cancer in women in Scotland under 35.

Speaking to 100 women from across Scotland from different backgrounds and histories of cervical screening, researchers tested different messages about the plans.

‘Many women had not heard of HPV or had heard of it only vaguely’, they found, and many did not know what the screening tests were for.

While a third of the women ‘had heard of’ a link between HPV and cervical cancer, experts also found ‘high levels of worry and confusion about HPV’.

And some phrases, such as telling women they were ‘HPV positive or negative’, were described by some as ‘scary’ or ‘confusing’.

NHS Health Scotland says the solution is clear information for women who have had a positive test for HPV, emphasising that it rarely leads to cervical cancer and that this would be picked up by further testing.

In addition, the report’s authors say the NHS should be clear that cervical cancer, as one of the most preventable cancers, can be eliminated.

Since 2008, women and girls have been vaccinated against the virus, which academics recently found had led to a ‘remarkable’ 90% reduction in cases.

It is hoped this will lead to a decline in instances of cervical cancer.

Following the development, the Scottish Government announced it would move to offer the vaccination to boys in Scotland.