Cervical cancer affects and is diagnosed in almost 3,000 women in the UK each year. The NHS has a very effective screening program in place that can detect early cancerous changes and as a result death rates have fallen. The problem is that the NHS will only offer screening every 3 years and will only start screening women after the age of 25. In addition the NHS screening program do not offer routine HPV screening. I recommend HPV testing for all my sexually active female patients from the age of 18 onwards.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infection with one of the high risk types, has been shown to be an important factor in the development of cervical cancer. HPV DNA is detected in virtually all cases of cervical cancer (90%), although not all factors that play a role are yet known.
The most aggressive types of HPV are 16 and 18. It is possible to have HPV infection for many years whilst still having normal smear results. This is why I recommend HPV screening in addition to regular smears.
Just having HPV doesn’t mean that you will develop cancer, but if the infection persists, either because your immune system cannot get rid of it, or if you are repeatedly infected, it can then lead to pre-cancerous changes in the cells of the cervix and eventually cervical cancer.
- Sex from an early age
- Multiple sexual partners
- Long term contraceptive pill use
- A weakened immune system
- Vaginal bleeding (between periods or during/after sex
- Smelly vaginal discharge
- Discomfort during sex
- Vaginal bleeding after menopause
I recommend that women have HPV testing in addition to regular cervical screening. If you test positive for one of the more dangerous HPV strains ( 16 or 18), then I recommend more frequent smears. This would allow for any abnormal cells to be detected early. If you have an abnormal smear , the cell changes will be graded as borderline, moderate or severe. If the changes are severe then further investigation and possibly treatment is recommended.
Reducing your risk
- Using a condom during sex will give you some protection from HPV.
- HPV testing
- Regular smears
- HPV vaccination. This is a preventative vaccine against the 4 most common strains of HPV (6, 11, 16 and 18)
I have over 14 years experience providing sexual health screening and I offer a completely confidential, professional, non judgemental service from start to end. If you are not sure if you have been at risk, then I offer a normal consultation to discuss the possible risks and whether screening would be appropriate. We discuss and agree all costs beforehand so you know exactly where you stand and I will always provide you with clear and accurate advice based on current British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH )guidelines.