In a bid to encourage women to take a smear test, self-sampling kits (that can be taken at home) could soon be available to women as part of NHS England. The pilot scheme, that aims to reduce cervical cancer rates, comes at a time when women taking tests hits a 21-year low.
“I think if we find it is successful, it might well be able to reach people who aren’t being reached by the current service,” Professor Sir Mike Richards, the government’s former cancer director for England and who is leading a review of cancer screening, told MPs at the Commons Public Accounts Committee. “We need to improve the convenience for patients – better access in terms of out-of-hours services, better access in terms of [clinics] close to where people work – but on top of that we may get to a different segment of the population by offering HPV self-sampling sets through the post.”
The kit, which tests for human papillomavirus (the virus causes 99% of cervical cancer cases), will be sent to women by post. According to Matejka Rebolj, a senior epidemiologist at King’s College London, the test is “as user-friendly as it can be” – taking only a few seconds to do, it comes with detailed instructions and an envelope so the sample can be safely sealed and sent off to be lab-tested.
The NHS wants women aged between 25 – 49 to be tested every three years. Currently, London has the lowest cervical screening uptake in England. “It’s a very intimate procedure, which can be associated with embarrassment and negative feelings, and so some women tend to put it off,” Rebolj told the BBC. The test aims to eliminate possible feelings of embarrassment for women.
If the pilot scheme proves successful – like it has been in the Netherlands and Australia – it will be rolled out nationally.