Smear tests can be uncomfortable and intrusive. But under new plans being considered by the Department of Health, women in England could soon be offered DIY smear tests which they can do from the comfort of their own homes.
The overall aim is to increase uptake of cervical cancer screenings, which have continued to decrease among women year on year. But how would an at-home smear test work exactly?
Australia has already adopted DIY smear tests, more formally known as self-sampling. Women are able to take their own cell sample in the privacy of their home or at a GP and send it off to be tested – meaning no uncomfortable speculum examination is required.
GynaeCheck, a form of self-sampling, is already available in the UK however it’s not available on the NHS, you have to pay £85 for it. It is used to detect the human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes 99.7 per cent 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.
It takes only a matter of seconds to collect a sample of cells. As no training is required, the self-sampler eliminates the need to book a doctor’s appointment or attend a surgery.
“GynaeCheck is delivered via post in discreet packaging and the sample is returned via a pre-paid envelope with test results expected within 10 days,” a spokesperson previously told HuffPost UK.
A study in the BMJ found offering self-sampling kits was generally more effective in reaching under-screened women than sending invitations to attend a smear test.
Professor Anne Mackie, Public Health England’s director of screening, said a consultation is currently being carried out to look at the benefits of self-sampling.
We’re still some way from being able to access the at-home tests for free. In the meantime, Cancer Research UK says cervical screening through your GP is the best way to detect the signs of what may turn into cervical cancer.
Ladies, make sure you go to your appointments.