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Thursday, 24 February, 2000, 02:22 GMT
Cervical cancer misunderstood

Cervical smear cells
Smears can save lives

Only one in three women realises that viruses or infections could increase the chance of developing cervical cancer, according to a survey.

In fact, research has shown that 99% of women with cervical cancer have the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).

The government announced on Wednesday that it would begin piloting the use of HPV testing as part of the NHS Cervical Screening Programme.

Click here to see the full details of the screening announcement

We have a responsibility to ensure that women understand the importance of screening which has been so effective in reducing deaths
Professor Jack Cuzick, Imperial Cancer Research Fund
The survey, conducted by the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, also found that only half of women realise that having many sexual partners puts them at increased risk of developing the disease.

HPV is sexually transmitted.

Fortunately, however, the vast majority of women with the HPV virus will not develop cervical cancer at all.

The survey also found:

  • Four in 10 women did not accept that cervical screening could reduce their chances of developing cancer
  • Only 7% of women correctly assessed the proportion of potential cancers - up to 70% - that screening service detects
  • Only 6% of women correctly estimated the number of women with cervical cancer - about 69% - who survive after treatment for at least five years
Professor Jack Cuzick, Head of Maths, Statistics and Epidemiology at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, said: "We have a responsibility to ensure that women understand the importance of screening which has been so effective in reducing deaths from cervical cancer, but also its limitations.

"The government also has a responsibility to introduce proven new technologies to ensure that it is offering the best screening service possible."

Professor Cuzick said the current smear test was more than 60 years old and needed to be updated.

Studies have shown that a technique called liquid cytology is a better system than the current one, and also facilitates the use of HPV tests where appropriate.

Professor Cuzick said: "Women need to be confident that the screening system is as up-to-date as it can be."

Liquid cytology involves placing the smear specimen in a liquid for transport.

The cells can then be separated from debris and a thin layer deposited on a glass slide.

This allows for more accurate and faster reading of the sample and minimises operator error.

It is currently being evaluated by NICE, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence.

Approximately 1,000 women took part in the poll, conducted by MORI.

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See also:
23 Feb 00 |  Health
Screening starts for 'cancer' virus
23 Feb 00 |  Health
Scientists zero in on cancer virus
26 Aug 99 |  Medical notes
Human Papillomavirus: The facts
26 Aug 99 |  Health
Virus blamed for all cervical cancers
21 Feb 99 |  Health
Cervical cancer vaccine on the way
07 May 99 |  Health
Cervical screening 'saved 1,300 lives'
25 Aug 99 |  Medical notes
Cervical cancer screening
19 Nov 99 |  Health
Smear equipment `misses cancers'
05 Mar 99 |  Health
Vulnerable women miss out on smear tests
17 Feb 00 |  Health
Cervical cancer drug 'breakthrough'

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