Non-invasive, home test kits for cervical cancer could replace smear tests

Women could soon be using an at-home test kit to detect their risk of developing cervical cancer, in place of visiting their local surgery for a smear test.

Researchers have developed a “self-sampling” test kit that would enable women to collect urine and vaginal samples at home. These would then be examined for pre-cancerous cells.

Over 600 women who tested positive for human papillomavirus (HPV) or who had abnormal smear tests took part in a study of the test.

Researchers then analysed the samples for changes in DNA caused by HPV, which causes the majority of cervical cancer cases, according to Cancer Research UK. HPV spreads during skin-to-skin contact, usually during sexual activity.

They found that the test correctly identified high-risk pre-cancerous cells in 96 per cent of samples.

Dr Belinda Nedjai, director of the Molecular Epidemiology Lab at Queen Mary University of London, said, ‘The initial use of self-sampling is likely to be for women who do not attend clinic after a screening invitation and countries without a cervical cancer screening programme. In the longer term, self-sampling could become the standard method for all screening tests.

‘The study indicated that women much preferred doing a test at home than attending a doctor’s surgery.’

READ MORE: Cervical cancer: symptoms and signs to look out for

And on the test’s potential she added, “We expect the self-sampling test to improve acceptance rates for cervical cancer screening, as well as reducing costs to health services and improving the performance of screening programmes.”

Currently all women aged 25 to 64 are invited to a cervical cancer screening, as part of the NHS’s cervical cancer screening programme.

Between the ages of 25 to 49 women are invited for this every three years. After this women are invited every five years until the age of 64.

Last year a survey of 2,017 women by the charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust revealed that one in four eligible women (aged 25-64) do not take up their smear test invitation. This figure climbed to a higher one in three among 25-29 year olds.