By Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust

WOMEN in Scotland will soon benefit from this more effective and reliable test, which research has shown will result in around 600 fewer cases of cervical cancer across the UK.

Almost all cervical cancers are caused by infection with HPV, an extremely common infection spread through skin-to-skin contact.

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HPV can sometimes cause abnormal cells to develop in the cervix which, in the majority of cases, will go away without the need for treatment. However, sometimes they can become cancerous. This is why cervical screening is so important. Cervical screening prevents up to 75 per cent of cervical cancers from developing as it can detect and treat the cells before they reach that stage.

In the current cervical screening programme, samples are first analysed to see if abnormal cells are present. If they are, the sample is tested for HPV to see if there is a need for further investigation through a colposcopy or treatment.

However testing the sample for HPV first has been shown to be a much more reliable indicator of women who may be at great risk of cervical cancer providing earlier detection.

If a woman does not have HPV their risk is extremely low however if they do have HPV their sample will be analysed for any abnormal cells and treatment offered if needed. If there are no abnormal cells, they will be monitored more closely until the infection has gone away.

It is essential the screening programme is prepared for this big change. We know from our research many women do not understand the link between HPV and cervical cancer or what having HPV means and we must reduce any anxiety or misinformation.

We are also currently concerned that more than one in four women in Scotland is not attending cervical screening.

Robert Music is chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.