Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust has launched a new campaign to mark Cervical Cancer Prevention Week.
#SmearForFear aims to raise awareness of the facts about smear tests and HPV.
The new method of testing in cervical screening means many more women will be told they have HPV.
Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust is concerned gaps in understanding could mean that what might be considered a simple HPV diagnosis could actually have a damaging effect on the lives of women.
While HPV can be confusing, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust wants to reduce the shame and stigma associated with the common virus.
Its new research found a third of women (33%) consider HPV a taboo topic and almost four in ten (39%) would not want anyone to know if they had it.
The charity warns that lack of understanding about HPV could lead to impulsive decisions or accusations which could have a life-long impact.
'I was ashamed'
Kristen was 44 when she was diagnosed with stage 4b cervical cancer:
“I knew nothing about HPV before I was diagnosed with cervical cancer," she said.
"It was another layer of fear and confusion.
"At first, I felt really dirty and thought I had done something wrong. It put a strain on my relationship.
"My partner didn’t understand it either and initially I blamed him for giving it to me.
"Then it made me question past partners. I was also scared to be intimate with him for fear of the cancer coming back.
"I felt very alone and unable to talk to people about my cancer diagnosis, because of the stigma about HPV. I was ashamed.
"No one should feel like this, especially when you have the biggest fight ever against cancer.”
Stripping away the stigma
While HPV can live in the body for many years, often remaining undetected, people often assume infidelity.
Over half (57%) say they might question if their partner had been unfaithful if they were told they had the virus and just 11% think people in long term relationships can get HPV.
Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: “No one should feel ashamed about having HPV.
"We must normalise the virus to reduce the emotional impact of diagnosis and ensure people know where to get trustworthy information and support.
"This means stripping away the stigma and getting the facts out.
"Smear tests are the best protection against cervical cancer and we want women to understand what their results mean, instead of having to navigate myths.”
Throughout Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust is asking people to share a smear on social media.
Whether it is a lipstick selfie or a myth about HPV, it wants to get people talking about HPV and smear tests.
It also has graphics and a film available to download and share from its website.