DIY smear tests should be introduced as soon as possible to reduce cases of cervical cancer, a charity has said.
Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust made the plea in a bid to diagnose the disease at an earlier stage.
The latest NHS figures show only 71 per cent of women are up to date on screening – the lowest rate since records began – and around five million women are overdue.
DIY smear tests should be introduced as soon as possible said Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust
NHS figures show that cervical cancer screening uptake among women is at 71 per cent, the lowest level since records began
Robert Music, chief executive of the charity, said self-testing could not come soon enough. He said Australia and Denmark, which already use home testing, are seeing ‘fantastic results’ in prevention and the number of early diagnoses.
He added that it could be a ‘game changer’ for those with physical or psychological difficulties with the usual test. The scheme – where HPV testing kits are sent in the post then returned to the NHS – will be trialled in England with a view to national implementation.
By December 2019, authorities plan to make a postal DIY smear test, that also checks for HPV, available to all women across the country.
Officials hope it will boost screening coverage by reaching women who have ignored invitations for tests because of embarrassment or difficulties getting an appointment.
The pilot scheme was announced as NHS England revealed that cervical screening administration will return ‘in-house’ from June.
Rebecca Vardy has been praised after she highlighted the importance of smear tests, as the number of women being screened for cervical cancer hit an all time low
Authorities plan to make the postal DIY smear test kit available to all women across the UK by December 2019
WHAT IS CERVICAL CANCER?
Cervical cancer affects the lining of the lower part of womb.
The most common symptom is unusual bleeding, such as between periods, during sex or after the menopause, but other signs can include:
- Pain during sex
- Vaginal discharge that smells
- Pain in the pelvis
Causes can include:
- Age – more than half of sufferers are under 45
- HPV infection – which affects most people at some point in their lives
- Smoking – responsible for 21 per cent of cases
- Contraceptive pill – linked to 10 per cent of cases
- Having children
- Family history of cervical or other types of cancer, like vagina
Source: Cancer Research UK
The decision follows a series of screening blunders, including outsourcing firm Capita’s failure to send invitations or test results to 50,000 patients last year.
Uptake rates for cervical screening are the lowest in 21 years, with nearly a third of women ignoring their last appointment letters.
Professor Sir Mike Richards, who is leading a review of cancer screening, told MPs that the DIY tests will follow a scheme tried in the Netherlands, where postal kits boosted uptake.
‘We may get to a different segment of the population by offering HPV self-sampling sets through the post,’ he told the Commons public accounts committee.
Home testing has been made possible by the creation of a more sensitive cervical test which uses a swab to test for the HPV virus.
Health officials said the self-sample pilot schemes are likely to involve women who have missed screening, with a kit sent to them within a month of a failure to respond to an appointment.
Studies have found the tests were nearly as accurate as those done in a clinic. Women who had missed screening appointments were twice as likely to provide a sample for testing as they were to respond to reminders to come to a clinic, Belgian research found.
Around 3,200 British women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year and 1,000 die with the disease annually – but rates are projected to rise by nearly 40 per cent in the next 20 years.
Officials hope that making the test available in the post will mean that more women get checked for cervical cancer
Experts say another 2,000 women would die every year without the screening programme.
Charities said the introduction of self-sampling could benefit thousands of women who are too embarrassed to go for tests as well as those with a disability and survivors of sexual violence.
Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: ‘We have been calling for this for a long time and believe this could be a game-changer.
‘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.’