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Life: a sexually transmitted process

So why stigmatise cervix cancer?

This is the first blog of two this week, where we will explore the links between cervical cancer and sexual health; and how the common Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection can potentially lead to cervical cancer.

Dr Tracie Miles explains how

Health workers find it strange that cervix cancer has been stigmatised by a label of a sexually transmitted disease. To a scientist, life begins because of sexual intercourse between a male and female. Life is sexually transmitted. Every pregnant woman begins motherhood with the transmission of sperm. Sexually transmitted changes are a natural part of being a healthy woman.

Viruses are an inescapable part of life. Most have a transient effect. Some stimulate your healthy skin cells to regenerate and then fade away. Even when a virus starts an unhealthy change in cells, the immune system will often recognise the process. It will inactivate the virus and the skin regenerates into healthy tissue.

The virus that causes cervix cancer is carried in semen and gets onto the skin cells on the cervix. This virus is everywhere and nobody can avoid it. It is the same sort of virus that causes warts on children's fingers or veruccucae on their feet.

All of us encounter viruses through our lives – they are a normal part of life. And before stigmatising women we should remember that men generally have more contact with a variety of different viruses. And gay men risk anal and throat cancer from sexual contact with men in a similar viral process.

So let’s make sure that stigma never stops a woman from cervical screening or getting the treatment they need

In our second blog post, we will look at how other processes and cellular failures can take us from virus to cancer.

Discussion point: Have you experienced stigma? Do you think stigma stops people attending cervical screening? What can we do to educate people and promote attendance? Do give us your views.