The tests are different, and women would have to be *very* flexible to be able to test their own cervix.
Last week, we bought you the news that at-home HPV swabs are being rolled out in certain areas of London as part of a trial.
Yet, the UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has caused some confusion. In a tweet, he shared that more than 31,000 women will be offered kits to ‘carry out smear tests in the privacy & convenience of their own homes’. The idea is to initially target areas where smear test appointment attendance is low.
Sharing a link to the NHS England website in his Tweet, the MP said: ‘Cervical screening is life-saving, so this is a great step forward.’
However, many were quick to point out that what the NHS are actually rolling out is Human Papillomavirus (HPV) swaps, not a cervical smear test.
The idea is that, once you’ve tested yourself for HPV at home, you’ll have a clearer idea of whether you need to go for your smear test at all. The likelihood is, you’ll only need an in-person smear test if your swab shows traces of HPV.
HPV is a virus which causes cervical cancer, among other cancers such as throat, neck, vulva, vagina and more.
Many weren’t happy with the misleading information the Health Secretary had shared. The Vagina Museum, based in Camden, quickly pointed out that it would be ‘impossible’ for women ‘to perform a smear test on yourself unless you are incredibly flexible and have absolutely perfect aim to hit your cervix’.
It appears that Hancock followed the wording he was encouraged to use. One representative for the Department of Health told the MailOnline that Mr Hancock had ‘followed the wording’ of the NHS press release.
This raises a bigger question as to why health officials would seemingly deliberately confuse female genital health terms.
The Vagina Museum post read: “The self sampling pilot isn’t cervical screening.”
“Those who receive the kits are taking a swab from their vagina to check for Human Papillomavirus (HPV), a virus which can cause cervical cancer. People whose sample contains HPV will then be asked to go for a standard smear test.”
“The study is targeting people who haven’t responded to invitations from their GPs to come for a smear test. It’s not a replacement for cervical screening, it’s a way of reaching those who are not having their smears.“
A rep for the museum added: “This isn’t just us being contrary. Terminology matters. A self-sampled vaginal swab checking for HPV is entirely different to a cervical smear test, and we mustn’t conflate them.”
While there’s no doubt it’s important for women to get tested for cervical cancer in a safe and comfortable environment, it’s also important that basic female anatomy isn’t confused along the way.
On the matter, an NHS representative said: “This is part of the cervical screening process, and women are being invited to carry out ‘smear tests’ in their own home.”
The main aim of the push is to provide a workaround for women who feel embarrassed about going for their smear tests. The new HPV home tests enable women to swab for the all important HPV virus.
Testing for HPV is important as nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by the virus – as many as 90%.