It’s been dubbed a “game changer” and the latest revelation of a new self testing kit that may obviate the need for traditional cervical screening at the doctor’s, is causing headlines all around the UK.
Thank you to ITV News and Laura Holgate for inviting me to comment on this and just why it has the potential to be transformative and help save even more lives that are claimed by cervical cancer.
The current cervical screening programme is incredibly effective at detecting cervical changes before they have a chance to become cancer. However, despite this, the uptake of screening is at an all time low with 1 in 4 women not attending, and even fewer in those who are aged 25 to 30 and in more deprived areas of the UK. The reasons behind this are complex, and include fear, stigma over how intrusive the testing may be and embarrassment, as well as difficulty getting time off to attend for the test.
What does the test look for?
The new self test done via a swab and urine allows us to detect whether a woman has HPV, which is closely associated with cervical disease, and even more importantly, whether that infection will go on and cause cancer if left untreated. Whilst the results are promising and may revolutionise how we offer screening to women, more research is needed to ensure accuracy and sensitivity of the test, and it will be another few years before it can be made available in the NHS. But it’s incredibly exciting to see how far we’ve come since I remember being involved in research on this topic as a junior doctor, to where we are now.
Special shout out to the brave and beautiful Isha Webber who has been treated for precancerous cervical disease and is helping get the stigma removed from cervical screening through campaigns such as Smear For Smear – where women smear their lipstick to raise awareness for smear tests!