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Every day in the UK, eight women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and three women lose their lives to the disease. And although cervical cancer awareness has recently focused on teenage girls and younger women, a third of those diagnosed are over 50 – and half of those that die are over 65.
According to a new study by the charity, almost two thirds of women aged 50-64 don’t know HPV causes cervical cancer, and many don’t understand the relationship between sexual activity and the disease.
This confusion and lack of knowledge is something we always try and address at our private health practice in Edinburgh, so in this blog post, we’re going to explain what HPV is, what causes it, and how you can prevent it.
HPV, or human papillomavirus, is a highly contagious group of viruses that affect over three quarters of sexually active women at some time in their lives.
Anyone who has ever been sexually active is at risk of contracting HPV as it can be passed on through any type of sexual contact, including kissing and oral sex.
In fact, according to Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, four out of five women are infected with genital HPV at some point in their lives without ever knowing it.
That’s because in most cases, HPV goes away on its own and doesn’t cause any health problems whatsoever.
Although most women who have HPV don’t develop cervical cancer, almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by the disease.
There are more than 100 different types of HPV, and around 13 of these – the high-risk types – are responsible for causing cervical cancers. Two particular strains of the virus (types 16 and 18) are thought to be responsible for 70% of all cases of cervical cancer.
These types of HPV infection don’t have any symptoms, so many women won’t realise they have the infection. But persistent infection with these types of HPV may lead to precancerous lesions, which if left untreated, may lead to cervical cancer.
That’s why it’s vitally important for women – young and old – to attend cervical screenings and get cervical cancer vaccines.
Cervical screening, or the smear test as it’s more commonly known, detects pre-cancerous cells that could lead to cervical cancer.
At YourGP, cervical screenings are part of the Well Woman check, which also includes breast examination, vaginal and pelvic examination, and menopausal support.
Importantly, the Well Woman check not only offers peace of mind, it can also catch any problems before they develop allowing you to take the necessary preventative steps.
As well as providing cervical screening as part of the Well Woman check, we also offer the GARDASIL® Human Papillomavirus Vaccine, which is proven protection against HPV.
Unlike cervical screenings, GARDASIL® is suitable for females (and males) from nine to 26-years-old, although it is not suitable for women who are pregnant.
I never imagined being able to open up and discuss so deeply my early life abuse, held back by embarrassment and fear, with Dr Myskow – for the first time ever – I felt completely safe and supported; not judged or disbelieved on any level. I would say she genuinely cares and has helped me immensely