While we all know that attending your smear test is vitally important for your health, the fact remains that the thought of the procedure makes many women across the country so self-conscious that they don’t respond to their invitations for screening at all.
As take-up of cervical screenings falls to a 21-year low, a new initiative from NHS England to encourage women to take a DIY smear test could cut rates of cervical cancer.
With London consistently showing has the lowest cervical screening uptake in England, the home testing project will see up to 22,000 women in north and east London given self-sampling kits from September.
The kits test for HPV, or human papillomavirus, the virus that causes 99% of cervical cancer cases, and has been developed by King’s College London and University College London Hospitals Cancer Collaborative in a bid to improve cancer outcomes.
At present, the NHS wants 80% of women between the ages of 25 and 49 to be tested every three years, and the same proportion of women aged 50 to 64 to be screened every five years.
“I think if we find it is successful, it might well be able to reach people who aren’t being reached by the current service,” Professor Sir Mike Richards, the government’s former cancer director for England, told the Public Accounts Committee.
“We need to improve the convenience for patients – better access in terms of out-of-hours services, better access in terms of [clinics] close to where people work – but on top of that we may get to a different segment of the population by offering HPV self-sampling sets through the post.”
Robert Music, chief executive of charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said the pilot scheme could be a “game-changer” for screenings.
“Introduction of self sampling will be of enormous benefit to many people, including survivors of sexual violence and women with a physical disability.
“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.”
If the pilot scheme proves successful, the DIY kits will be rolled out nationally.