DIY smear tests could soon become a reality across the country, with a pilot scheme of self-sampling kits being rolled out in north and east London from September.
The changes are being made in order to encourage more women to undergo cervical screenings following the new that the number of women attending their regular cervical cancer screenings had fallen to a 20-year low.
In 2018, just 71.4 per cent of women attended their smear test; a startlingly low number compared with 72 per cent the previous year and 73.7 per cent back in 2011.
Women aged 25-64 who are least six months overdue for their smear tests will be invited to take part in the pilot. They will receive a kit containing a vaginal swab that enables them to collect a sample at home, and a freepost envelope or box to send it back to the lab for testing.
Robert Music, chief executive of cervical cancer charity Jo’s Trust, said that the move could prove to be a ‘game-changer’ in regards to access to screening.
‘Introduction of self sampling will be of enormous benefit to many people, including survivors of sexual violence and women with a physical disability,’ he explained.
‘Other countries are already seeing very positive results of HPV self-sampling, with those who have delayed attending for many years choosing to take the test. It is now crucial that this pilot moves forward quickly to ensure we are not left behind in our vision of eliminating cervical cancer.’
Back in December, an announcement made by Professor Anne Mackie, director of screening at Public Health England, confirmed that a consultation period was currently being carried out ‘to look at the benefits of self-testing at home for women.’
The concept emerged after the British Medical Journal undertook a study (taking results from 56 different studies) to determine how effective at-home testing could be, and discovered it could be a positive move.
‘Offering self sampling kits generally is more effective in reaching underscreened women than sending invitations,’ explained the authors of the study.
‘Self-sampling is a much more accessible test, making it easier for many groups,’ Robert Music commented at the time. ‘Our recent research found that 80 per cent of women would prefer to self-sample at home, and this number rose to 88 per cent of women who had delayed having a smear test.’
Smear tests are undertaken to detect human papillomavirus (HPV), which can lead to potentially pre-cancerous cells in the cervix. Early detection can help to prevent serious illnesses such as cervical cancer.
Currently, women between the ages of 25 and 65 are invited in for regular screenings, with women aged 25-49 invited every 3 years, and women aged 50 to 64 invited every five years. Women over the age of 65 can go in to be tested, but will not automatically receive an invitation from their GP.