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The DIY smear test: Women who miss their cancer screening at the clinic will now be offered home kits in the post
- Kits will let women take their own sample in the comfort of their own home
- Officials hope it will boost screening coverage by reaching more women
- Around 3,200 British women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year
- Experts say another 2,000 women would die without the screening programme
Women will be offered DIY smear tests in a bid to cut cervical cancer deaths.
Kits will be sent to women in the post, enabling them to take their own sample at home and return it to the NHS.
Officials hope it will boost screening coverage by reaching women who have ignored invitations for tests because of embarrassment or difficulties getting an appointment. The pilot scheme was announced as NHS England revealed that cervical screening administration will return ‘in-house’ from June.
The decision follows a series of screening blunders, including outsourcing firm Capita’s failure to send invitations or test results to 50,000 patients last year.
Women not wanting to go through the traditional process of a smear test at their local surgery (pictured above) may be able to opt for a kit to be sent to their home address
Uptake rates for cervical screening are the lowest in 21 years, with nearly a third of women ignoring their last appointment letters.
At the moment a smear test involves testing for abnormalities in the cells on the cervix.
But the test is currently being changed to test first for the HPV virus,with a follow-up examination if the virus is present.
This is currently being rolled out across the NHS, and by December 2019 all women in Britain will be able to get it. Professor Sir Mike Richards, who is leading a review of cancer screening, told MPs that the DIY tests will follow a scheme tried in the Netherlands, where postal kits boosted uptake.
‘We may get to a different segment of the population by offering HPV self-sampling sets through the post,’ he told the Commons public accounts committee.
Home testing has been made possible by the creation of a more sensitive cervical test which uses a swab to test for the HPV virus.
Health officials said the self-sample pilot schemes are likely to involve women who have missed screening, with a kit sent to them within a month of a failure to respond to an appointment.
Studies have found the tests were nearly as accurate as those done in a clinic. Women who had missed screening appointments were twice as likely to provide a sample for testing as they were to respond to reminders to come to a clinic, Belgian research found.
The new scheme is set to boost screening coverage by reaching women who are too embarrassed to attend an appointment
Around 3,200 British women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year and 1,000 die with the disease annually – but rates are projected to rise by nearly 40 per cent in the next 20 years.
Experts say another 2,000 women would die every year without the screening programme.
Charities said the introduction of self-sampling could benefit thousands of women who are too embarrassed to go for tests as well as those with a disability and survivors of sexual violence.
Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: ‘We have been calling for this for a long time and believe this could be a game-changer.
‘Other countries are already seeing very positive results of HPV self-sampling, with those who have delayed attending for many years choosing to take the test.
‘It is now crucial that this pilot moves forward quickly to ensure we are not left behind in our vision of eliminating cervical cancer.’
WHAT IS A SMEAR TEST?
A smear test detects abnormal cells on the cervix, which is the entrance to the uterus from the vagina.
Removing these cells can prevent cervical cancer.
Most test results come back clear, however, one in 20 women show abnormal changes to the cells of their cervix.
In some cases, these need to be removed or can become cancerous.
Being screened regularly means any abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix can be identified at an early stage and, if necessary, treated to stop cancer developing (stock)
Cervical cancer most commonly affects sexually-active women aged between 30 and 45.
In the UK, the NHS Cervical Screening Programme invites women aged 25-to-49 for a smear every three years, those aged 50 to 60 every five years, and women over 65 if they have not been screened since 50 or have previously had abnormal results.
Women must be registered with a GP to be invited for a test.
In the US, tests start when women turn 21 and are carried out every three years until they reach 65.
Changes in cervical cells are often caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), which can be transmitted during sex.
In January 2018, women shared selfies with smeared lipstick on social media to raise awareness of the importance of getting tested for cervical cancer in a campaign started by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.
Celebrities including model and socialite Tamara Ecclestone, former I’m A Celebrity! star Rebekah Vardy and ex-Emmerdale actress Gaynor Faye joined in to support the #SmearForSmear campaign.
Socialite Tamara Ecclestone supported the Jo’s Trust’s #SmearForSmear campaign
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Women who miss their cancer screening at the clinic will now be offered home kits