“Around 500 people are diagnosed with HPV-caused cancers, including cervical cancer, every year in Ireland”
New research has found that just 29 per cent of people in Ireland fully understand what Human Papillomavirus (HPV).
That is a very low number and indicates that there is a growing knowledge gap around the virus.
I myself would fall into the remaining 71 per cent who have heard about HPV but don’t fully understand what it is.
Most of what I have learned about the virus is through the tireless campaigning of Vicky Phelan and Lynsey Bennett for HPV testing and HPV vaccination expansion and paved to way towards improving open disclosure of medical errors.
Sadly, both women, who exposed the failure in Ireland’s CervicalCheck system, lost their lives in 2022 to cervical cancer.
Building awareness levels around HPV, its contribution to cervical cancer and other HPV-related illnesses, can all help towards Ireland’s goal to eliminate cervical cancer by 2040.
The research has highlighted a worrying knowledge gap about HPV.
The study was conducted by Ipsos B&A on behalf of MSD Ireland.
A representative sample of over 1,400 people in Ireland was taken to determine awareness levels and perceptions about HPV and the HPV vaccine.
Most people will be infected with a form of HPV in their lifetime.
HPV is the name for a very common group of viruses, as there are more than 100 different types of HPV.
Although they may never know as there will be no symptoms and it usually will clear naturally within two years.
The lack of symptoms can mean a person may not even be aware that they have it.
This shouldn’t be confused with Dormant HPV, which will not be picked up on a screening test and will not cause you problems.
Once HPV becomes active, it will appear on a screening test.
Despite most people developing HPV, the research revealed that 76 per cent of people thought it was unlikely they had ever had it.
HPV is transmitted by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus and is most commonly spread during vaginal or anal sex.
It can also spread through close skin-to-skin touching during sex.
Just four per cent were able to correctly identify how extremely common the virus is, with 26 per cent unaware of how HPV is spread from person to person.
These findings, once again, indicate potential knowledge gaps around HPV.
“We would strongly encourage parents to get the facts and be HPV-aware.”CERVIVA spokesperson, Dr Cara Martin, Assistant Professor in Molecular Pathology, Trinity College Dublin
While the results show that there is a lack of understanding about what HPV is, it also suggests that there is a continuing stagnation when it comes to HPV vaccine awareness, as 34 per cent of people admitted they had no awareness that vaccines may help to prevent certain types of cancers.
Furthermore, just 63 per cent of people said they had awareness of a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer.
HPV awareness, vaccination, screening, and treatment of pre-cancerous lesions can all help prevent HPV from developing into an illness down the line.
If an HPV infection doesn’t clear naturally, it can lead to both low-risk and high-risk HPV-related diseases, such as genital warts, anal cancer, and cervical cancer.
In cervical cancer screenings, HPV can be detected before it can cause abnormal cells in the cervix to change and develop into cervical cancer
The HPV vaccine not only protects against genital warts and most cases of cervical cancer, but it also protects against cancer of the vagina, vulva, penis or anus caused by HPV, as well as mouth, throat, head and neck cancers caused by HPV.
CERVIVA spokesperson, Dr Cara Martin, Assistant Professor in Molecular Pathology, Trinity College Dublin, says while we have cervical screening for early detection of pre-cancer changes in the cervix, there is no screening for other PPV-related cancers, which affect both men and women.
For this reason, the HPV vaccine is the best preventative measure.
“The best chance we have of eliminating these cancers is to prevent the primary infection through vaccination. Important research published in Ireland within the last 12 months has shown the positive early impact of HPV vaccination in reducing the number of people with cervical abnormalities picked up during cervical screening.
“We have a real opportunity in Ireland to eliminate cervical cancer within the next 17 years, through a combined approach of HPV vaccination, cervical screening, and early treatment.
“We would strongly encourage parents to get the facts and be HPV-aware.”
For most of us, our bodies will naturally resolve the issue over time, but for others, it can cause complications such as genital warts and even certain cancers in both men and women.Bernie Carter, Assistant Director of Nursing Services at the Marie Keating Foundation
Most cases of Cervical cancer are caused by HPV
HPV-caused cancers, including cervical cancer, are linked to around 500 people every year in Ireland, according to Averil Power, CEO of the Irish Cancer Society.
The HSE reports that almost all cases (nine in 10) of cervical cancer are caused by HPV.
Bernie Carter, Assistant Director of Nursing Services at the Marie Keating Foundation echoes this warning.
“Most cases of Cervical Cancer are caused by HPV, which is a very common virus.
“In fact, HPV is so common, that most sexually active men and women will have the virus at some point in their lives, which means that many of us will have it without even knowing we’ve had it.
“For most of us, our bodies will naturally resolve the issue over time, but for others, it can cause complications such as genital warts and even certain cancers in both men and women.
“It’s incredible to think that we can prevent this from happening, and by focusing on building awareness of the virus alongside a focus on prevention, screening and treatment, we can eliminate a disease like cervical cancer.”
Attend your CervicalCheck screenings
Women between the ages of 25 and 65 will receive a letter when their test is due.
Check with Cervical Check if you’re not sure when your next test is due.
You can have a test at your GP or local family planning clinic.
There can be a lot of nerves and shame around cervical smears, but a few moments of discomfort could save your life.
Encourage the women in your life to keep up with their tests.