Labour MP Jess Philips calls for stigma around HPV to end so others don’t feel ‘as bad about this as I once did’

The Labour MP said anyone struggling with a HPV diagnosis should not "feel ashamed"

Labour MP Jess Phillips has called for the stigma and confusion surrounding HPV (human papillomavirus) to be broken down, after the “shame and stigma” she felt after being told she had the virus in her 20s.

More women in the UK are now being told they have it because of changes to the way smear tests work in recent years, but the MP says it should not put people off attending cervical screenings, the BBC reports.

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Labour MP Jess Phillips has called for the stigma and confusion surrounding HPV (human papillomavirus) to be broken down, after the “shame and stigma” she felt after being told she had the virus in her 20s (Photo: David Cheskin/Getty Images)
Labour MP Jess Phillips has called for the stigma and confusion surrounding HPV (human papillomavirus) to be broken down, after the “shame and stigma” she felt after being told she had the virus in her 20s (Photo: David Cheskin/Getty Images)

At a glance: 5 key points

- Cervical cancer is by far the most common HPV-related disease, according to the WHO

- Most sexually active people will contract HPV, which is passed on through sexual contact, at some point

- Jess Phillips was 22 when changes to cells in her cervix were detected

- Ms Phillips said people should not be put off by the prospect of being told they have HPV

- Ms Phillips said anyone struggling with a HPV diagnosis should not "feel ashamed"

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What’s been said

Jess Philips told the BBC: "I felt like it was my fault, that I had done something wrong, because I had HPV."

She added: "It's sexually transmitted so there was always this sense that it was somehow my doing and that I could have avoided this.

"It seems that relatively little has changed in regards to HPV - the level of knowledge, how it is viewed, and how it is spoken about.

"I feel saddened that there are still so many women and people with a cervix, finding out they have HPV, feeling terrified about their future and possibly blaming themselves."

"Anyone can get HPV and anyone can pass it on," she said. "The fact that it is mostly women dealing with the fall out is simply not fair."

Ms Phillips said anyone struggling with a HPV diagnosis should not "feel ashamed".

"Please don't blame yourself," she said. "I want to make sure no-one feels as bad about this as I once did."

Background

Around 80 per cent of sexually active adults will contract one of more than 200 strains of HPV at some point in their lives, with around roughly 90 per cent of infections going away by themselves within two years.

In most cases, those with HPV do not know they have it and it clears without treatment. However, in some cases it can cause cell mutations that can develop into cervical cancer, and some other cancers.

In the UK, 3,200 women get cervical cancer every year.

Smear tests are used to aim to detect cell changes, and since 2018 in Wales, 2019 in England, and 2020 in Scotland, all tests have screened for HPV first.

This enables the tests to work out more accurately and earlier on who is at a higher risk of cervical cancer. It also means more women are being told they have HPV.

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