At-home pap smear tests are being tested in London


Photo by Mufid Majnun on Unsplash

A new study aims to let women and people with a cervix take their own pap smears at home. The study, called YouScreen, will offer the self-sample test to 31,000 individuals in north and east London, which has the lowest cervical screening rates in England.


The study aims to make cervical screening easier and encourage more women to get screened for cervical cancer on a regular basis. During the Covid-19 pandemic, many adults put off routine healthcare checkups and screenings for themselves and their families. Testing at home could be a solution to the pandemic risks and fears of exposure to the virus.


Even in normal times, at-home testing can overcome many of the ordinary healthcare barriers. For example, the average wait time for a doctor's appointment in the U.S. pre-pandemic was 24 days, Nurx app CEO Varsh Rao told the Whipp last month. Nurx, which offers a number of at-home women’s healthcare services through its platform, already offers at-home HPV tests that can be mailed to a lab for a cost.


The U.K. study, which is being led by the National Health Services, King’s College and Public Health England, underscores how other cultural barriers and embarrassment around cervical screenings can be overcome with at-home women’s healthcare services.


“It’s an intimate procedure and a variety of barriers can stop people from attending, even though it can be a life-saving test,” said study leader Anita Lim, PhD, of King’s College London. “This simple and convenient swab means it can be done in the privacy and comfort of your own home."


To take the at-home “smear test,” which tests for human papillomavirus (HPV), enrollees in the study can get a testing kit through the mail or pick up a kit from a participating practice. While samples taken by a nurse or doctor are considered the most effective, self-samples are a good alternative already in circulation in some countries.


Research has shown that 99 out of 100 women can do the self-sample properly, and other studies have found the tests do identify abnormal cervical cells that were then successfully treated.


“The kits are currently being offered to women in select parts of North and East London who are overdue for their regular cervical cancer screening,” Ruth Stubbs, National Cervical Screening Programme manager at Public Health England (PHE), said in a statement.