Smear tests to screen for cervical cancer could be replaced by DIY tampon swabs

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A THIRD of women skip life-saving smear tests – often through fear or embarrassment.

But millions of lives could be saved as experts consider replacing smear tests with DIY tampon swabs.

Self-testing cervical screening kits could save millions of lives
Self-testing cervical screening kits could save millions of lives
Getty – Contributor

The UK National Screening Committee is considering introducing the kits, which can be used at home, in that hope that more women will get screened, the Daily Mail reports.

It comes as the number of women attending screenings dropped to the lowest level since records began in 1995.

Health bosses warn two women a day are dying of cervical cancer as a result.

Home kits

The DIY kits work like a tampon, with the swab is inserted into the vagina to collect a sample of cells and liquid.

Women can then pop the swab into the post to be tested for HPV in a lab.

A pilot study in Scotland found a third of the 3,800 women sent kits used them.

The British Medical Journal published a separate review of more than 70 studies last year concluding tests done at home were just as successful at detecting pre-cancerous cells as those carried out by medics.

However, home kits can return slightly more false positive results meaning the risk of women being told they have pre-cancerous cells when they don’t is higher.

A number of home HPV tests, from cotton bud-type swabs to brushes and tampon-like ones, are already available privately at a cost of around £50.

‘Game-changer’

Tania Adib, a consultant gynaecologist at the Lister Hospital in London, told the Mail: “Self-testing kits are quite good at detecting HPV, and I think they are a great alternative to going to your GP surgery and having a smear test.

“You can do one in the comfort of your own home, it’s not intimidating and it’s not scary. They are a very good idea.”

Cervical cancer charity Jo’s Trust said that offering home testing to the national screening programme could be a “game-changer”.

You can do one in the comfort of your own home, it’s not intimidating and it’s not scary. They are a very good idea


Tania Adibconsultant gynaecologist

The current smear test, which was developed in the Fifties, involves putting a speculum – a plastic cylinder with a round end – into the vagina.

One inside, it’s opened so a small, soft brush can be inserted to take a sample of cells from the cervix.

This is then sent off to a lab to examine the cells under a microscope for pre-cancerous changes and results are sent in the post two weeks later.

But experts say a new more accurate test could see all women having fewer smear tests – every five years.

Cheers for Smears

Around 3,200 women in the UK are diagnosed with the disease every year – a number that is set to rise by around 40 per cent within 20 years.

But it’s one of the only cancers that can be prevented through early screenings – and smear tests can actually stop 75 per cent of cases from developing.

That’s why The Sun’s Fabulous has partnered with Jo’s Trust to launch #CheersForSmears, a campaign aiming to ensure women across the UK attend their screenings, no matter what.

Kate Sanger, spokesperson for Jo’s Trust, said: “Attendance is falling at an alarming rate.

“There are many reasons why women miss their screenings, from fear and embarrassment to a lack of available appointments.

“Survivors of sexual violence can also find it difficult to attend because of psychological issues.

“Of course, there are also people who simply forget about it or don’t see smears as a priority.”

Early signs you could have cervical cancer

“Not all women diagnosed with cervical cancer have symptoms, which is why it’s really important to attend cervical screening (smear tests) when invited. But, whatever your age, it’s equally important to be aware of cervical cancer symptoms,” Imogen Pinnell, health information manager at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust tells The Sun.

Early symptoms can include:

1. Abnormal bleeding (during or after sex, between periods and also post-menopause)period

The most common and earliest sign of cervical cancer tends to be irregular bleeding.

It happens when the cancer cells grow on the tissue below the cervix.

It’s an especially alarming sign in postmenopausal women who no longer have periods. There’s no age limit to developing cervical cancer.

2. Unusual vaginal discharge

Everyone’s discharge is different, so it’s a case of knowing what is normal for you.

If you find that the colour, smell and consistency has changed, then that’s something you really need to have checked out.

When cancer lacks oxygen, it can cause an infection which leads to strange smelling discharge.

3. Discomfort or pain during sex

Pain during sex can be a sign of a number of different issues, but one is cervical cancer.

Because the disease often comes with no symptoms, pain during intercourse is one of the key indicators. It can be a sign that the cancer is spreading to surrounding tissues.

4. Lower back pain

It could be down to you straining something in the gym, or it could be a warning sign that something’s wrong with your reproductive organs.

Persistent pain – just one off twinges – in the lower back, pelvis or appendix can be a symptom of cervical cancer.

5. Unintended weight loss

While effortless weight loss might sound like the answer to many of our prayers, it’s never a good sign if it happens seemingly without cause.

A loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss tend to be signs that the body isn’t working properly – it’s trying to conserve energy. If you notice that you’re not eating as you normally do, go to your GP.

According to new research from Jo’s Trust, the lack of convenient smear appointments is one of the main reasons women are missing theirs.

Although the NHS invites all women aged 25 to 49 for testing every three years, or every five years for those aged 50 to 64, almost one in 10 women have been offered times they couldn’t make when they last tried to book an appointment.

More alarmingly, seven per cent were told there were no available dates.


But that’s not the only reason levels have dropped so low — women simply aren’t making their health a priority.

The data from Jo’s Trust also shows that a staggering 35 per cent of us wouldn’t attend our smear if we had to take time off work and 26 per cent say it’s too hard to make appointments with busy lifestyles, citing schedule conflicts with the gym, children and even waxing appointments.

Added to that, 35 per cent of women report being too embarrassed to attend because of concerns over their body shape and the appearance of their vagina.

The current cervical screening test involves using a speculum
The current cervical screening test involves using a speculum
Getty – Contributor

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