At-home smear tests to be trialled by thousands of UK women in bid to cut cervical cancer cases

Wednesday, 24th February 2021, 10:48 am
Updated Wednesday, 24th February 2021, 11:13 am
The kits will be sent to women between 25 and 64 years old who are 15 months overdue for a check (Photo: Shutterstock)

Tens of thousands of women across the UK are trialling at-home smear tests in an effort to try and cut down the number of cervical cancer cases.

More than 31,000 women will be given kits to carry out the tests in their own home, rather than by a health professional in a GP surgery or health centre.

The tests look for strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) which cause most cases of cervical cancer.

If the trial is successful, health officials have said it could be rolled out across the NHS in England.

Who is taking part?

The at-home kits will be sent in the post to women aged between 25 and 64 years old who are 15 months overdue for a check and live in the London Boroughs of Barnet, Camden, Islington, Newham and Tower Hamlets, where attendance at screening appointments is low.

Women who are six months overdue for their test and attend GP surgeries involved with the trial will also be offered an at-home kit.

Those taking part in the YouScreen trial, which is being jointly run by NHS England, Public Health England and King's College London until December 2021, simply need to follow the instructions on the test and then post their swabs back for analysis.

Results from the tests will be sent back to participants in the post and in the event HPV is detected, women will be contacted to attend a follow-up appointment.

Dr Anita Lim, from King’s College London – who is leading the study, said: “Self-sampling is a game-changer for cervical screening.

“We know many women aren’t coming forward for screening and almost half of women in some parts of London aren’t up to date with their cervical screening.

“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 come for regular screening are at the highest risk of developing cervical cancer, so it is crucial that we find ways like this to make screening easier and protect women from what is a largely preventable cancer.”

‘It could save your life’

The rollout marks the first time home screening has been trialled by the NHS in England and it is hoped the move will encourage more women to take the test.

Previous studies have suggested that women may not attend appointments due to embarrassment, fear of the test or because of cultural barriers.

Speaking about the trial, Professor Peter Johnson, national clinical director for cancer for the NHS in England said: “This is an important new way to make screening easier for thousands of women.

“We know there are lots of reasons why women might not attend a screening appointment, including worries about Covid.

“GPs have taken extra precautions to make surgeries safe, and these home kits give thousands of women another option to keep up to date with their screening.

“We would urge every woman to make sure they have their smear test - the earlier HPV is detected the better. It could save your life.”