Smear tests could be replaced by at-home urine kits after major medical breakthrough

Mirror Online 2 weeks ago

Smear tests could be replaced by a home urine sample kit after a major medical breakthrough.

Scientists have developed the urine test which they say could boost cervical cancer screening rates and save lives.

It comes as screening take-up is now the lowest it has been since records began 21 years ago.

Cervical cancer has notoriously high death rates but screening has plummeted from a peak after the death of former reality TV star Jade Goody.

All women aged from 24 to 64 are invited by the NHS for a smear test where a medic checks the health of a woman’s cervix.

A small sample of cells are collected for testing but some women find the test unpleasant which is thought to be partly to blame for low take-up.

Many women dread the smear test

The screening prevents thousands of cervical cancer deaths each year but many more could be prevented.

The new home test detects a chemical change in urine called DNA methylation.

It can pick up signs of the four versions of the human papillomavirus (HPV) most likely to lead to cancer.

It was found to be 100% accurate at detecting invasive cervical cancer, and 93% accurate at detecting pre-cancer in women.

Dr Belinda Nedjai, who developed the test with a team at London’s Queen Mary University, said: “The initial use of self-sampling is likely to be for women who do not attend clinic after a screening invitation and countries without a cervical cancer screening programme.


“In the longer term, self-sampling could become the standard method for all screening tests.

“The study indicated that women much preferred doing a test at home than attending a doctor’s surgery.”

More than 3,000 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year. Almost 1,000 women are killed by the disease annually.

The breakthrough test was unveiled at the NCRI Cancer Conference in Glasgow and researchers said there was no reason why it could not be rolled out immediately.

They estimate it will be offered on the NHS in two to three years.

Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: “The findings from this research could be a game-changer.

Jade died in 2009 after a short battle with cervical cancer

“It could mean those requiring treatment are identified faster and reduce the number of women having to go for potentially unnecessary investigations at colposcopy.

“This would also save the NHS precious funds.

“It is vital that further research is conducted on larger groups of women however the findings are exciting and could mean that new methods for cervical screening are getting closer to reality.

“For women who find the current methods of cervical screening difficult, including those with a physical disability or who have experienced trauma, it could mean they can access screening in a far more acceptable and accessible way.”

One in four women currently skip the smear test. This increases to one in three among those aged 25 to 29.

Surveys suggest embarrassment is the reason why up to who half of those who miss screening do not attend.

Former Big Brother star Jade Goody announced diagnosis of cervical cancer in 2008. She revealed it was terminal and died the following year.

HPV has been linked to cervical cancer

During that period about half a million extra cervical screening attendances occurred in England.

Just 71.4% of women in England are attending screening - the lowest since 1997 - and a fall from 75.7% in 2011.

Dr Nedjai added: “We expect the self-sampling test to improve acceptance rates for cervical cancer screening, as well as reducing costs to health services and improving the performance of screening programmes.”

Women aged 25 to 49 are invited for a screening test every three years, while those aged 50 to 64 are invited every five years.

Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by the HPV virus.

There are effective vaccines that can protect people from contracting HPV but women who may have been infected with HPV in the past still need to be screened for cervical cancer.

Pre-cancerous cells spotted in screening can be removed.

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