Most women unaware of virus link to cervical cancer

In collaboration with the Press Association

The majority of UK women are not aware that cervical cancer is caused by a sexually transmitted virus called Human Papillomavirus (HPV), according to researched published in the British Journal of Cancer this week.

A total of 97.5 per cent of the 1,600 women surveyed were unaware of the link.

The figures show only a slight improvement on a similar result from 2002, when less than 1 per cent of women were conscious of the connection. Approximately 80 per cent of sexually active women are likely to have a form of HPV during their lifetime, as there are over 100 different strains of the virus, making it the most commonly contracted sexually transmitted infection.

Only a few strains are linked to cancer, and although infection with these strains only rarely leads to cervical cancer, almost all cases of the disease are directly linked to HPV.

Two vaccines, called Gardasil and Cervarix, have recently been approved for use in the UK. The vaccines prevent infection by the strains most likely to cause cervical cancer - HPV 16 and 18. Cancer Research UK's health information manager Jenni Macdougall said: "Now that vaccines against human papillomavirus (HPV) have been developed, it's essential that public information keeps pace. HPV causes most cases of cervical cancer, yet this research shows few women in the UK realise this. "The UK's cervical screening programme saves the lives of thousands of women each year. Cancer Research UK's Screening Matters campaign encourages people to go for screening when invited, and to encourage friends and family to do the same." The UK Government is proposing to vaccinate girls aged 12-13 against HPV, and to include HPV testing as a part of cervical cancer screening. Approximately 1,120 women die from cervical cancer in the UK each year.

Read the abstract on the British Journal of Cancer website

Find out more about HPV vaccines and cervical cancer

Find out more about the Screening Matters campaign