Women in England could be able to conduct a smear test at home if new plans by the Department of Health go ahead.
A report by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust found women attending their regular cervical-cancer screenings in England has fallen to just 71.4% of women. The study revealed 80% of women would prefer to self-sample at home, which would boost the number of cervical-cancer screenings.
Smear tests lead to detecting human papillomavirus (HPV) and potentially cancerous cells in the cervix. Three thousand cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year in the UK. The condition is most common in women aged 30 to 45, but sexually active women of all ages can develop cervical cancer.
Experts say the lack of testing, currently at a 21-year low, is due to embarrassment, a lack of awareness or just putting it off. Rebekah Vardy and Michelle Keegan are among a handful of celebs who have recently taken to social media to post their smear tests online, in order to raise awareness and remove the stigma attached to cervical-cancer screenings.
The team of researchers from Australia and the US concluded that being offered tests that could be sent in the mail encouraged women to get tested for cervical cancer. But they also found that when women had to ask for a DIY test to be sent to them, this didn't increase the number of responses.
However, they also found the DIY kits were roughly 10% less effective, and had a higher rate of “false positives”.
Smear tests are anxiety-inducing for some women – especially some women who may have survived rape or sexual assault. They can also be frustratingly inaccessible for many people with disabilities, so the prospect of being able to test yourself with ease and comfort is an important step forward that could save lives.
But it’s important that screenings by a doctor aren’t replaced by the DIY kits. It’s good to have another option, but it should be a priority that we follow Rebekah and Michelle’s lead and debunk the myth that smear tests are painful and awful for the majority of women.
We need to work on breaking the stigma, as well as ensuring that cervical-cancer screenings are both accessible and accurate. Could this development bring us one step closer to making this a reality?