22nd Feb 2019
22nd Feb 2019
Curated by Flávia Oliveira
According to a new study, cervical cancer could be nearly wiped out in a few decades, and the biggest obstacle is attitudes to screening. New home kits can help to faster identify women at risk.
In 10 seconds? New research suggests, over 13 million cases of cervical cancer could be prevented over the next 50 years with more HPV vaccinations and screening around the globe. Other studies concluded that home testing could play a major role. (Read the science)
What - yet another problem that doctors haven’t got time for? Actually, it’s not their fault. There’s still a lot of social stigma around checking for HPV infection, which can lead to cervical cancer. Some women feel that a positive result would mean they have cancer. Others fear that having the virus would be proof of their partner’s infidelity. (More on how cervical cancer could be eliminated)
Are these fears well-founded? No. HPV is quite widespread - 80% of women are likely to come into contact with it. Most infections don’t result in cancer, but as they can be passed to partners, we need to catch the dangerous strains that could cause cancer years later. Yet, a lot of women are reluctant to be tested. For example, Korean American women have the third highest incidence of cervical cancer amongst Asian Americans due to negative attitudes toward testing. (Find out more)
Aren’t you just singling them out? In reality, attitudes are a problem in many communities, even in developed countries such as the UK. And prevention depends on social status too. Rich countries are ahead in the battle to eradicate the illness because they have more money for vaccination and screening programs. (More on HPV screening in rural India)
So how can home testing help? Well, the great thing is that home kits allow women the privacy of not interacting with a doctor. People collect a sample themselves and mail it to a provider for analysis. If they receive a HPV-negative result, they can relax until their next screening. Those who test positive would be referred to their doctor. Studies suggest that most women feel comfortable with self-sampling, using kits mailed to them. But the cost could be an issue as many would not pay to buy the test themselves. (Read more)
Overall, how dangerous is cervical cancer? It can be deadly if left untreated. For example, it kills about 2 women in the UK every day (about 870 a year) – which is a large number for a cancer that is 99.8% preventable. About 63% of women diagnosed with cervical cancer will survive it for 10 years or more, and it is definitely one kind of cancer where the battle can be fought and won. (Read about treatment research)
What turns women off cervical cancer vaccination
Vaccination is a highly effective strategy to prevent cervical cancer. However, from time to time, there is resistance to it.
There was reluctance even in richer European countries, such as Denmark and Ireland following a documentary that created a belief that the vaccine caused young girls to fall ill.
In 2013 Japan suspended its campaign after a public panic due to psychosomatic reactions in some vaccinated girls, and similar events in Columbia the following year contributed to the suspicions.
Despite this, cervical cancer screening will save lives. Beating this illness can become the first great victory in the battle against cancer – if we can overcome embarrassment and misconceptions.