This video helps understand the main issues that this project aims to investigate. I spoke to Professor Jack Cuzick from Cancer Research UK, who highlighted the importance of changing cervical screening methods and the understanding of the human papilloma virus (HPV). I also heard the opinion of three women in the streets of London.
Débora Miranda: According to the World Health Organisation, over 12 million people are diagnosed with cancer every year. Two in five cancers are potentially preventable. The Human Papillomavirus or HPV causes cervical cancer, and is the second biggest cause of female cancer mortality. There are two main weapons against the disease. Screening for cervical cancer, which has been widespread in developed countries for many years, and newer techniques aimed at the virus that causes the disease.
Prof Jack Cuzick: There clearly is not very much understanding about the human papillomavirus. I think most people know that they should get screened and get an invitation. There has been a drop in acceptance of invitations in younger women. There is a lot of misunderstandings and fears about the virus because it is a sexually transmitted virus and it raises all sorts of issues about behaviour and partners behaviour which need to be handled with quite sensitively so doctors and people in general do need to understand more about this virus. It’s a very common virus. Like the common cold in most cases it leads to very minimal changes.
Voxpop 1: I’m not one of those organised people who makes a note of when the next smear test should be. I wait to get a letter from my GP or from the hospital.
Voxpop 2: When I got the letter I didn’t read it that well. I just sort of knew that I had to go. My friend had recently got a letter because she had just turned 25 as well, so we decided to book our appointments for the same day so we could both go to the doctor surgery together. That was quite nice to have the moral support. And even though I didn’t read the letter that much the nurse was really nice and she explained everything really well. The whole experience was much better because of that.
DM: Different countries implement different cancer screening programmes. It is important to understand the scientific evidence on which worldwide governments are based to make their decisions.
Voxpop 3: I grew up in another culture, where you get a yearly smear test if you’re on the pill. When I was in my early twenties I was taking the pill and so I would have the test every year and that was part of the culture. I grew up in the south of France and I think people are probably a bit more laid back about their sexuality or anything which involves your body It’s not seen as a taboo as maybe in an Anglo-Saxon culture.
Voxpop 1: I think it’s become better since there’s been so many high-profile cases. And I think Jade Goody’s case really brought to the general population the importance of testing and that it can happen to you at a very young age.
JC: The most important thing in screening programmes (and it’s been clearly demonstrated in cervix cancers) is high coverage. Screening can only work if people that can be screened do it. The coverage is very very important. The second most important thing is having an effective test and we’re seeing now that the HPV testing is more effective, more sensitive than cytology. So we do need to move to HPV testing as a method of screening.
DM: Cervical cancer raises controversial questions. Why does the age to start screening change from one country to another? Is there enough information about the vaccine? And what are the harms of screening?
JC: As with all screening there may be some harms. The main harm associated with cervical screening is, there is increasing evidence now that the treatment associated with lesions at a young age leads to increase miscarriage, early pregnancy rates because you basically have to loop out a piece of the cervix and that makes the cervix weaker.
DM: But before these questions are answered, follow the advice:
Voxpop 2: It wasn’t pleasant, I don’t think it would ever be pleasant to have that sort of thing but it was fine. It’s uncomfortable but it’s five minutes of your day compared to possibly the rest of your life if you catch something early. It’s a necessary evil but it’s really not that bad.