The YouGov poll found that whilst almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), 48% think they are not at risk of HPV if they have been in a monogamous relationship for some time.
However, as symptoms can remain dormant for many years – and both men and women can get reinfected several times during their life – being in a long-term relationship does not remove the risk.
The survey, which recorded responses of almost 1,500 women, also found 17% of people – and more than a quarter of over-55s – believe sexual promiscuity is the main risk factor for cervical cancer, while around 7% think if their partner receives an HPV diagnosis, they have been unfaithful.
Just over a fifth of survey respondents said they have no idea how HPV, which is passed on through sexual contact, is transmitted – and 52% didn’t know that both men and women can be infected.
Another misunderstanding highlighted is that a large proportion (42%) of women believe they don’t need to be screened for cervical cancer if they’ve already had the HPV vaccine. While the vaccine protects against the types of HPV that cause most cases of genital warts and cervical cancer, as well as some other cancers, it does not protect against all types of HPV – so smear tests are still crucial.
“Increasing understanding about HPV, including what having the virus means, how it is contracted and how long it stays in the body, is essential.”
Vicki Bokor Ingram, cervical cancer lead at Roche Diagnostics UK & Ireland, a pharmaceutical company which commissioned the survey, described these misunderstandings as “dangerous”, and said the stigma around HPV needs to be tackled.
And Robert Music, chief executive of charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said it’s “worrying” to see so many myths surrounding HPV, as this “may just increase fear and uncertainty at an already anxious time”.
“Increasing understanding about HPV, including what having the virus means, how it is contracted and how long it stays in the body, is essential,” he said.
Currently, only girls are given a jab for HPV – however, from September 2019, the government will roll out vaccinations for boys in a bid to wipe out cervical cancer.
The survey also found 44% of women had either previously delayed or chosen not to book a cervical cancer screening appointment after receiving an invitation. Around a quarter of over-55s said they were “unlikely to book an appointment following an invitation in the future.