Scientists have found that women are more likely to get screened for the disease if they've taken an at-home test for the human papillomavirus infection (HPV), which is known to be a precursor to cervical cancer.
And that's especially true for women from lower-income households.
Experts from the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Centre sent HPV self-collection kits to 193 low-income women in North Carolina.
All of them were overdue for screening, according to national guidelines (here you're supposed to have them roughly every three years from the age of 25).
They found that this screening approach found high-risk HPV in all of the cases of women who were then found to have high-grade, abnormal cervical pre-cancerous growths. And that's lead them to believe that home HPV tests might help to identify women at high-risk of cervical cancer.
"This is a demonstration that mailing self-collection kits and returning them to test for high-risk HPV infection has big potential to increase screening access among under-screened women, and to do that successfully," said Jennifer S Smith, the study's senior author, and a professor in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.
"Women are dying unnecessarily of cervical cancer because they either haven't been vaccinated against HPV in adolescence, or they've not been getting screened according to national guidelines," Prof Smith said.
"Increasing screening rates among under-screened women is of paramount importance."
According to Cancer Research UK, 99.8 per cent of cervical cancer cases are preventable, but only three in five women survive it.
Every year, over 3,000 women are diagnosed with the disease in the UK.
We all automatically start being offered free smears after the age of 25, but experts warned last month that about three million women across England haven't had a test for at least three and a half years.
The study sent participants self-collection brushes along with instructions for how to take a sample swab from inside the vagina. Those brushes were then tested at a lab for HPV and other STIs. Participants also self-collected samples at a clinic and handed them to a nurse before having a regular smear test from a qualified clinician.
What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
There are no obvious symptoms during the early stages of cervical cancer.
However, vaginal bleeding can often be a tell-tale sign – especially if it occurs after sex, in between periods or after the menopause.
That said, abnormal bleeding is not a definite sign of the condition – just a possible indicator.
Nevertheless, it should be investigated by your GP as soon as possible.
They can refer you to a specialist within two weeks if they have further concerns.
The best thing you can do is make sure that you have a smear test on-time, as that will tell if there's anything abnormal going on down there.
Every woman over the age of 25 who has a GP is invited for screening – and it doesn’t matter if you’re sexually active or not.
It is possible for women of all ages to develop cervical cancer, but it’s extremely rare in women under 25.
Researchers then compared the results from the self-collection and the clinician-collected samples.
The home self-collection test indicated that 12.4 per cent of women were infected with high-risk HPV, the self-collection tests used in the clinic found 15.5 of the women had high-risk HPV infection, and the clinician-collected test identified 11.4 per cent of the women had high-risk HPV infection.
All women found to have high-grade cervical lesions by smear or by cervical biopsy were positive for high-risk HPV on their home self-collected sample.
"We found in this sample, all of the women who had high-grade lesions had HPV-positive home self-collection results," Prof Smith said.
"We didn't miss any of those high-grade cases by conducting home self-collection."
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