Women in the dark on cervical cancer facts

Results of a new survey released by the National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women's Health (NPWH) indicate that most of the 1,000 women polled often confused myth with fact when quizzed about cervical cancer prevention.

According to the survey, women older than 30, who are most at risk of developing cervical cancer, are half as likely as their younger counterparts to recall speaking to their providers about human papillomavirus (HPV) and its link to cervical cancer. They also are less knowledgeable about the virus. While 90% of survey participants ages 30 and older considered themselves somewhat or very familiar with the preventive tests they need, 58% had not heard of the test for HPV, and 86% did not recall their providers ever talking to them about the test.

One of the myths the survey revealed was that women think they are out of the woods if they have been in a long-term relationship; in fact, HPV can stay in the body for many years, says Susan Wysocki, NP, NPWH's president and CEO. Another myth revealed by the survey is that women do not think they need the HPV test if they have had normal Pap smears all their lives.

"However, the Pap isn't foolproof; it's still possible to suddenly discover you have invasive cancer despite a history of normal Paps," says Wysocki. "Getting the HPV test along with your Pap if you're over 30 — when you are most at risk — provides maximum peace of mind."