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Women Unaware of Viral Link to Cervical Cancer

August 8, 2003

A survey released Tuesday showed that many women are unaware that the human papillomavirus is the main cause of cervical cancer, and that birth control pills offer no protection against it. HPV, linked with about 95 percent of cases of cervical cancer, is one of the most common worldwide causes of sexually transmitted disease.

Fewer than one-third of the 1,000 women questioned during 15 months at a London clinic had ever heard of HPV. Less than half knew it was linked to cervical cancer. Those who knew tended to be older women who had had an abnormal cervical smear. Average age of the women surveyed was 30.

"In this relatively well-educated sample, awareness and knowledge of HPV were poor," Jo Waller of the University of London said in the report "Awareness of Human Papillomavirus Among Women Attending a Well Woman Clinic," published in Sexually Transmitted Infections (2003;79;(4):320-322).

Almost all women with cervical cancer have HPV, but studies have shown that only a small percentage of women with HPV develop cervical cancer. HPV also causes genital warts, the most easily recognized sign of HPV infection. Only one-third of the women surveyed knew that genital warts did not cause cervical cancer.

"Public education is urgently needed so that women participating in cervical cancer screening are fully informed about the meaning of their results," Waller noted.

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