HPV (human papillomavirus) self-testing is as effective as tests carried out by doctors, according to research from Sweden.1 Simple HPV home tests could complement existing screening programmes, and identify more women at risk of cervical cancer.
HPV is also a cause of oropharyngeal cancers and cancers of the anus, vulva and penis.
Like the UK, Sweden has a system of regular gynaecological smear tests, which has halved the number of cases of cervical cancer. Most of the patients who die from the disease are either above the screening age, or part of the 20% who fail to attend their screenings. The figures are similar in other countries with equivalent screening programmes.
Study author Dr Lotten Darlin, of Lund University, said: 'We are usually able to cure cases of cancer that are identified through smear tests. For those women who have not been for smear tests, the cancer has progressed considerably further by the time it is diagnosed. It is these women who are at risk of dying from the disease'.
Dr Darlin investigated the possibility of home testing, but found that the testing kits available were either complicated or expensive. Her team developed their own test comprising a cotton bud and a test tube. The test is sent off to a lab, where it has been shown to produce just as clear results as HPV tests taken by a doctor.
In one study, self-testing kits were sent to 1,000 women who had not had a smear test for over nine years. Fifteen percent of them used the test and sent in samples for analysis.
Dr Darlin believes that the simple self-testing kit could also be used in countries that do not have a programme of regular cervical smear tests.
Darlin L . Cervical cancer: studies on prevention and treatment. Faculty of Medicine, Lund University, Sweden: Doctoral Dissertation. 2013.