DIY smear test kits, allowing women to screen themselves from the comfort of their own home, could soon be offered by NHS England as part of a pilot scheme.
Professor Mike Richards, who is leading a review of cancer screening, told MPs at the Commons Public Accounts Committee that the NHS plans to pilot ‘self-sampling’, which has already proven to boost uptake of cervical screening in the Netherlands.
If the pilot scheme is successful, there are plans to roll it out nationally.
It’s hoped that through the scheme, the NHS will be able to reach a large group of women who don’t show up to their cervical screening appointments – the latest figures show uptake for appointments is at a 21-year low.
Australia has already adopted DIY smear tests, more formally known as self-sampling kits. Women are able to take their own cell sample in the privacy of their home and send it off to be tested – meaning no speculum examination is required.
GynaeCheck, a form of self-sampling, is already available in the UK however it’s not available on the NHS, and you have to pay £85 for it. It’s used to detect the human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes 99.7% of cervical cancers.
Women use a swab to collect a fluid sample from their cervix (the narrow passage forming the lower end of the uterus), which is then sent to a laboratory to be tested for high risk strains of HPV.
A study in the BMJ previously found offering self-sampling kits was generally more effective in reaching under-screened women than sending invitations to attend a smear test.