Health & Fitness

Thousands of women to receive home testing kits in new cervical cancer trial

More than 30,000 women living across London will be given home testing kits by the NHS so they can be screened for a virus known to cause cervical cancer.

Swab tests will be posted to 19,000 women, aged between 25 and 64, who are 15 months overdue for their smear tests.

GPs will also hand out a further 12,000 tests to women who are at least six months overdue for a test.

The trial will involve 166 GP practices and women living in Barnet, Camden, Islington, Newham and Tower Hamlets, where screening appointment attendance is low.

It is the first time home tests for the human papillomavirus (HPV) have been trialled in England, and is being done in an attempt to counter the fear and embarrassment women report over having a smear test.

After using the DIY swab tests women can post their swabs directly to an NHS lab, with results sent back in the post and to their GP. If HPV is detected women will be invited to attend the GP for a standard smear test.

If HPV is not detected on a self-sample, women will be recalled in the usual way in three or five years for another check, depending on their age.

NHS England said the move could help detect some cancers earlier, making them easier to treat and helping to cut deaths.

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 for cervical screening or what is often referred to as the ‘smear test’. Almost half of women in some parts of London aren’t up to date.

“A variety of barriers can stop women from coming, even though it can be a life-saving test. These could be for physical, practical or personal reasons, as well as social or cultural taboo.”

She added: “Women who don’t come for regular screening are at the highest risk of developing cervical cancer. It is crucial that we find ways to make cervical screening easier for women to ensure that they are protected from what is a largely preventable cancer.”

There are more than 3,200 cases of cervical cancer diagnosed every year in the UK with 99 per cent considered preventable. Just over half of those diagnosed with cervical cancer survive for 10 years or more. Around two-thirds of cases are linked to women living in deprived communities.

NHS national clinical director for cancer, Professor Peter Johnson, 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.”

Cancer Research UK has warned that the impact of Coronavirus on the NHS, along with delays to operations and treatments, has led to 40,000 fewer people starting cancer treatment across the UK in 2020.

The NHS has urged patients not to delay attending their GP surgery if they have symptoms that might suggest cancer, amid concerns over the drop in referrals during the pandemic.

Alexandra Lawrence, consultant gynaecological oncologist at the Royal London Hospital and part of the North East London Cancer Alliance, which co-chairs the home testing study steering group, said: “Collaborating in this study is vitally important for us to address the low uptake of cervical screening in our area of London, as we know a check allows treatment to take place, if necessary, before cancer can develop.

“During the Covid-19 pandemic, many patients have been reluctant to go to their GP surgery for a screening appointment. As well as measures to improve confidence among patients to attend NHS premises for screening, I hope the YouScreen study will also be part of the solution to ensuring that potential cancers are prevented.”

The trial will run until December 2021.


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