Just in: women are to be offered at-home HPV swabs, which will indicate if you need a smear test

Tests designed to be taken at home are aimed at encouraging more women to overcome any smear stigma.

At-home smear tests released for the first time in the UK
(Image credit: Getty Images/Science Photo Libra)

Tests designed to be taken at home are aimed at encouraging more women to overcome any smear stigma.

A new NHS trial is offering women at-home HPV swabs that identify the early signs of cervical cancer.

The trial will be offered to around 31,000 women between the ages of 25 to 64 living in Barnet, Camden, Islington, Newham or Tower Hamlets in London.

It's being rolled out as a way to counter the drop off in smear test rates GP clinics are currently seeing.

Doctors and experts alike are hoping the 'do-it-at-home' kits will make testing more accessible. Wondering how you get one? Simply order it from your GP if you live in a trial area and you'll receive it in the post.

While the HPV swab isn't a smear test, it does identify any sign of the HPV virus. If you have HPV, you'll need to get an in-person smear - but the at-home swabs are hoping to prevent many women from needing to go in-person at all.

A range of factors are currently holding women back from getting their smears, from worry about the actual test, to embarrassment of the procedure being done by a stranger, to varying cultural barriers, too.

COVID, of course, has also played a factor, with many unwilling to visit their GP surgery for risk of picking up the virus.

At-home swabs were initially suggested earlier this year by various cancer charities. They'd noticed that smear tests were being delayed as a result of the pandemic.

Testing in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had been halted during the varying lockdowns. In England, despite GP's continuing testing, there have been long waiting times.

Some stats for you: an estimated 600,000 tests were missed in the UK in just April and May last year. That's according to Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust charity, who also added that a further 1.5 million appointments are missed annually.

Dr Anita Lim from King's College London is one of the doctors leading the YouScreen trial. She said: "Women who don't come for regular screening are at the highest risk of developing cervical cancer. It's crucial that we find ways like this to make screening easier and protect women from what is a largely preventable cancer."

"Self-sampling is a game-changer. This simple and convenient swab means it can be done in the privacy and comfort of your own home."

National clinical director for cancer for the NHS England professor Peter Johnson said: "These home kits give thousands of women another option to keep up to date with their screening."

Countries like Denmark and Australia already offer at-home testing, so the UK wouldn't be the first.

Smear tests are known for being a little uncomfortable. Swabbing for cervical cancer requires a nurse or GP to swab the inside of your vagina. To do this, they use a long, thin cotton bud and send it to a lab.

As you know, finding and treating the disease early is essential for cancer recovery. If it gets to the later stages, chances of survival are lowered.

Charity Cancer Research UK has said that it is not yet known how effective and accurate self-sampling could be in cervical screening.

What do you reckon? Would you be more comfortable doing your smear test at home? Let us know @marieclaireuk

Ally Head
Senior Health, Sustainability and Relationships Editor

Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Senior Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, nine-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She's won a BSME for her sustainability work, regularly hosts panels and presents for events like the Sustainability Awards, and is a stickler for a strong stat, too, seeing over nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.