Cervical cancer self-tests may be key to smear alternative

Smear tests could soon become a thing of the past due to a breakthrough that could allow women to check the symptoms of cervical cancer in the comfort of their own home.

In the UK, women aged between 25 and 64 are invited to have a cervical screening every three years.

Recent Public Health England figures have found that a quarter of women do not attend their appointment.

One of the problems with cervical screening is that many women are put off from going, often feeling nervous, embarrassed or worried.

Researchers have said that a new type of test based on DNA within self-collected urine or swab samples might provide an accurate way to determine whether an HPV-positive woman is likely to have precancerous or cancerous cells.

This means that a less invasive approach could be a possible alternative in the future.

Scientists at Queen Mary University of London asked 600 women to provide self-collected samples for screenings.

They were asked to provide vaginal samples themselves using swabs. These were then extracted by the researchers for DNA analysis.

The test correctly identified high-risk pre-cancerous cells in 96% of samples.

Dr Belinda Nedjai, director of the molecular epidemiology lab at the university, said:

“The initial use of self-sampling is likely to be for women who do not attend clinics after a screening invitation and countries without a cervical 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. 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.”

The study is to be presented at the National Cancer Research Institute conference in Glasgow but has not been published or peer reviewed yet.

It involved a test called S5, which detects whether DNA from four types of HPV linked to increased risk of cervical cancer has been modified through a process known as methylation.


Text References

BBC News. (2019). Cervical screening: DIY alternative to smear test ‘promising’. Accessible: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-50287047. Last Accessed: 7 November 2019.

Davis, N – Guardian. (2019). Cervical cancer self-tests may be key smear alternative – study. Accessible:

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/nov/04/cervical-cancer-self-tests-may-be-key-smear-alternative-study. Last Accessed 7 November 2019.

Sky News. (2019). An end to smear tests? Home urine kit could detect cervical cancer. Accessible: https://news.sky.com/story/home-urine-testing-kit-could-make-cervical-cancer-smear-test-obsolete-11854461. Last Accessed: 7 November 2019.