Women offered home test kits in bid to cut cervical cancer deaths

An NHS sign

An NHS sign - Credit: PA/Sean Dempsey

More than 31,000 women will be offered home kits to test for the human papillomavirus virus (HPV), which can lead to cervical cancer.

The swab tests will go to women aged 25-64 who are 15 months overdue for a check and live in Barnet, Camden, Islington, Newham or Tower Hamlets, where screening appointment attendance is low.

If the home swab tests - not themselves smear tests - detect HPV, women will be invited to attend their GP practice for a standard smear test as a follow-up.

The swab tests will be posted and given out by GPs at 166 practices in the first trial of its kind in England.

Research has shown that embarrassment is often a key underlying reason for women not attending a smear test appointment, as well as cultural barriers and fear about what it involves.

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.

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“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."

The YouScreen trial is being run by NHS England, Public Health England and King’s College London.

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.

In total, 19,000 women will be posted a kit and 12,000 will be given one by their GP, with research showing that 99 per cent of women are able to carry out a self-swab effectively.

The YouScreen study will run until December 2021.