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24 February 2021

At home kits to check for early cervical cancer launches in London

More than 31,000 women will be offered kits to carry out a check for HPV, also known as “smear tests”, in the privacy and convenience of their own home.

YouScreen picture

The tests will be posted to women as part of a study called YouScreen, led by King’s, the NHS and Public Health England, which targets women aged 25-64 years who are at least six months overdue cervical screening.

The swab tests will be posted to women or given out by a GP to check for HPV which can lead to cervical cancer. The targeted women live in five London boroughs - Barnet, Camden, Islington, Newham and Tower Hamlets - where screening attendance is particularly low.

Research has shown fear and embarrassment about the test and underlying cultural barriers can prevent women from attending cervical screening. Providing women with home kits can give another option to make sure they are up to date with their screening.

Women can post their completed swab directly to the testing laboratory. Results will be sent back in the post and to women’s GP surgeries.

If the home test detects HPV, women will be invited to attend their GP practice for a standard cervical screening test as a follow-up. 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.

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. It's an intimate procedure for women and people with a cervix.

Study lead Dr Anita Lim from the School of Cancer & Pharmaceutical Sciences

Dr Lim continued: “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. This simple and convenient vaginal swab can be taken in the privacy and comfort of your own home.

“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.”

In total, 19,000 women will be posted a kit and 12,000 will be given one by their GP, with research showing that 99% of women are able to carry out a self-swab effectively.

We are delighted to be launching this trial of self-sampling to make cervical screening easier for women in north east and north central London at this time. The health service is under enormous strain from the pandemic and GPs are working flat-out to provide COVID vaccination. This innovation allows women to be screened whilst maintaining social distancing and with minimal involvement from their GP practice.

Professor Peter Sasieni from the School of Cancer & Pharmaceutical Sciences

Professor Sasieni said: "Cervical cancer prevention has improved dramatically with improved screening and HPV vaccination. Innovations, such as self-sampling, should help to ensure that this once common cancer is made rare."

The YouScreen study will run until December 2021.


In this story

Anita  Lim

Senior Epidemiologist

Peter  Sasieni

Academic Director of King's Clinical Trials Unit