HPV self-test kits are to be given to more than 31,000 women in England to encourage them to get tested for HPV from the comfort of their own homes.
The trial, run by NHS England, will see swab tests either posted to women or given out by GPs to increase take up of screening for the Human Papillomavirus Virus (HPV), which can lead to cervical cancer.
The home swab is a simple way for women to do the test themselves, rather than having one done by a general practice nurse. Research shows 99% of women are able to carry out a self-swab effectively. If the home test detects HPV, women will be invited to a standard smear test as a follow-up.
Initially, the tests will go to women aged 25-64 who are 15 months overdue a smear test and live in Barnet, Camden, Islington, Newham and Tower Hamlets, where screening attendance is low. London has the lowest cervical screening coverage in the country, which is why the trial is being rolled out there.
It’s the first time home HPV tests have been trialled in England. It’s being rolled out through 166 GP practices, running until December 2021.
Research shows embarrassment is a key reason why women don’t attend a smear test appointment, as well as cultural barriers and fear of the unknown.
NHS national clinical director for cancer, Professor Peter Johnson, said there are other reasons why women might not attend an appointment, including Covid. These DIY tests will “make screening easier for thousands of women”.
“We would urge every woman to make sure they have their smear test – the earlier HPV is detected the better,” he said. “It could save your life.”
The YouScreen trial is being run by NHS England, Public Health England (PHE) and King’s College London (KCL). Women will be able to access a video explaining how to do the test at home.
How it works
Before using the kit, read through the information booklet and wash your hands. To use the swab at home, take the plastic tube out the package (saving the packaging for later) and remove the swab from the tube. Hold the swab at the red mark halfway up the stem, ensuring you don’t touch the tip (as this could contaminate the sample).
Remove your underwear and get into a comfortable position to insert the swab into your vagina. Some might find it helpful to stand with one foot on a nearby chair or a closed toilet seat, others might be better sitting down on the toilet seat with their knees apart.
Insert the swab gently into your vagina, only going as far as the red mark on the stem. Women should rotate the swab gently for 20 seconds and then slowly remove the swab, placing it back in the plastic tube.
Once complete, swabs can be posted directly to the NHS Cervical Screening Programme’s London laboratory and results will be sent back in the post and to GP surgeries. If the test detects HPV, women will be invited by their GP to have a standard smear test as a follow-up.
Pregnant women are advised not to use the kit if they receive one. Meanwhile if you’re on your period when the kit arrives, you should wait until your period has finished before doing the swab.
Catching more cancers early, when they are easier to treat, is a key part of the NHS Long Term Plan. It’s hoped the tests will help achieve this.
Dr Anita Lim, from KCL, who is leading the study, said: “Self-sampling is a game-changer for cervical screening... this simple and convenient swab means it can be done in the privacy and comfort of your own home.
“It’s an intimate procedure and a variety of barriers can stop people from attending, even though it can be a life-saving test. This simple and convenient swab means it can be done in the privacy and comfort of your own home.”
Women who don’t attend regular screening are at the highest risk of developing cervical cancer, she added, “so it’s crucial we find ways like this to make screening easier and protect women from what is a largely preventable cancer”.
As well as those who are 15 months overdue a check, women who attend a GP appointment for another reason, and are at least six months overdue a test, will also be offered a home kit. 19,000 women will be posted a kit and 12,000 will be given one by their GP.
Kate Sanger, head of policy and communications at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: “Self-sampling removes so many of the challenges to cervical screening and through our research we know it is very much wanted by women. It has been fantastic to be part of this study and we hope it leads to change that will save lives and the trauma a cervical cancer diagnosis can bring.”
Correction: This article originally referred to the self-test kits as DIY smear tests. We have amended the article to reflect they refer to at-home swab tests to detect Human Papillomavirus Virus (HPV).
In its press release about the kits, the NHS stated: “More than 31,000 women will be offered kits to carry out smear tests in the privacy and convenience of their own homes in a trial, NHS England has announced.”