Katie McGlynn urges women to get a smear test
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There are around 3,200 new cervical cancer cases in the UK every year. That’s more than eight every single day. Smear tests are designed for all women and people with a cervix, aged between 25 and 54, to help prevent cervical cancer. The test is normally carried out by a nurse or doctor, but more than 31,000 women are about to trial self smear tests at home. Can you order a self smear test kit? Express.co.uk reveals everything you need to know about the new trial.
Cervical screening, also known as smear tests, check the health of your cervix to help prevent cancer.
A nurse or doctor takes a small sample of cells from your cervix and checks them for types of human papillomavirus (HPV) that can cause changes to the cells of your cervix. These are called ‘high risk’ types of HPV.
About one in 20 women have a smear test result that is abnormal, and one in 2,000 will have cervical cancer.
Despite the importance of the test, research has shown that embarrassment is one of the main reasons women fail to attend a smear test appointment, alongside cultural barriers and fear about what it involves.
READ MORE- Pandemic has devastating impact on access to cervical cancer screening
The test itself should take less than five minutes and the whole appointment should take about 10 minutes, but many women are too nervous to attend the appointment at all.
Thankfully, the NHS is introducing home test kits to encourage women to get tested and catch any cases of cervical cancer early.
More than 31,000 women will be offered kits to carry out smear tests by themselves at home in a trial by NHS England.
Healthcare professionals across the nation are praising the trial as potentially lifesaving.
NHS national clinical director for cancer, Professor Peter Johnson, said: “This is an important new way to make screening easier for thousands of women. We know there are lots of reasons why women might not attend a screening appointment, including worries about Covid.
“GPs have taken extra precautions to make surgeries safe, and these home kits give thousands of women another option to keep up to date with their screening.
“We would urge every woman to make sure they have their smear test – the earlier HPV is detected the better. It could save your life.”
Dr Anita Lim, from King’s College London, who is leading the study, added: “Self-sampling is a game-changer for cervical screening. We know many women aren’t coming forward for screening and almost half of women in some parts of London aren’t up to date with their cervical screening.
“It’s an intimate procedure and a variety of barriers can stop people from attending, even though it can be a life-saving test. This simple and convenient swab means it can be done in the privacy and comfort of your own home.
“Women who don’t come for regular screenings are at the highest risk of developing cervical cancer, so it is crucial that we find ways like this to make screening easier and protect women from what is a largely preventable cancer.”
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Who needs to have a smear test?
Just like any other medical test, the process and waiting for results (which takes about two weeks) is daunting, and you’d probably rather not do it – but it is essential for all women between the ages of 25 and 64.
When you’re aged between 25 and 49, you have to have a smear test every three years.
Then when you are 50 to 64 you will only need to go every five years.
Women aged above 65 will only be invited for a test if one of their last three tests gave abnormal results.
Can you order a ‘DIY’ at home smear test kit on the NHS?
At present, you cannot order a DIY at home smear test kit on the NHS, the test kits are being trialled among a certain group of women in England.
A statement from the NHS explains: “The home swab is a simple way for women to do the test themselves, rather than have one done for them by a general practice nurse.
“They will go to women aged 25-64 years who are 15 months overdue for a check and live in Barnet, Camden, Islington, Newham and Tower Hamlets where screening appointment attendance is low.
“It is the first time home smear tests have been trialled in England and is being rolled out through 166 GP practices, as part of the national NHS Cervical Screening Programme.”
This study will run until December 2021, and the results will presumably lead to a decision on whether the kit will be widely available for women across the UK to order.
Hannah Travis, Senior Solicitor in the Medical Negligence Team at Bolt Burdon Kemp said: “The tests will initially be sent to women who are 15 months overdue a check which is a good initiative to make sure no cases go missed, given that the areas the tests are being sent to have the lowest uptake of cervical screening in the country.
“It is however to be noted that these sampling kits are not the same as attending for a smear test as they detect the HPV virus only which can lead to cervical cancer, whereas the smear test can note pre-cancerous changes in cells.
“However, if the results do show a positive result then this will lead to an invitation for a standard smear test at a GP surgery, earlier investigations and therefore earlier treatment to prevent any further development of cervical cancer.
“I hope the trial is a success as it will be a great boost to hopefully an ever-increasing uptake of cervical screening.”
While you aren’t able to order one online on the NHS, you can still buy online HPV tests online from places such as Superdrug and other online pharmacy sites.
The Superdrug website explains: “The HPV self-sampling wand test checks for evidence of high-risk strains of the HPV virus.
“The smear test, however, checks for abnormalities of the cervix which can develop into cervical cancer.”
If you aren’t one of the women in the NHS trial, you should ideally visit your GP as normal for your smear test in person.
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