Women could be offered DIY smear tests at home to boost number of cervical cancer screenings

Sabrina Barr
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Women in England could be sent DIY smear tests in an effort to increase the number of cervical cancer screenings taking place across the country, under new plans being considered by the Department of Health.

Professor Anne Mackie, director of screening at Public Health England said a consultation was currently being carried out to "to look at the benefits of self-testing at home for women".

The announcement follows a recent study in the British Medical Journal which revealed that doing doing so could boost the number of people taking smear tests, therefore increasing the possibility of detecting potentially pre-cancerous and cancerous processes in the cervix.

DIY smear tests for human papillomavirus (HPV) - the name for a group of viruses that affect the skin and the moist membranes lining your body, including the cervix, anus, mouth and throat - 30 of which can affect the genital area, were also found to be as accurate as screenings conducted by healthcare professionals.

The team of researchers from Australia and the US also compared the way in which women responded to being mailed DIY tests and receiving a letter reminding them that their cervical cancer screening is due. They concluded that being offered tests that could be sent in the mail is a constructive method of encouraging women to get tested for cervical cancer.

"Offering self sampling kits generally is more effective in reaching underscreened women than sending invitations," the study's authors wrote.

However, they found that when women had to personally ask for an at-home smear test to be sent to them, this didn't increase the number of responses.

The team used research from 56 different studies to draw their conclusions.

Last week, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust reported that the number of women attending their regular cervical cancer screenings had fallen to a 21-year low in England, with with just 71.4 per cent of women taken the test down from 72 per cent in 2017 and 73.7 per cent in 2011.

The charity also found that one in four women avoided being tested for cervical cancer at medical clinics due to “embarrassment”.

Chief executive Robert Music said he believed the research demonstrated the benefits of women being offered at-home smear tests in the UK.

"It's very positive to see further research showing the benefits of HPV self-sampling and hopefully this can help it becoming closer to reality in the UK," he said. "Self-sampling is a much more accessible test, making it easier for many groups. 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."