9 Dec 2022

Cervical cancer screening study to let participants home test

6:25 pm on 9 December 2022
A brush and vials used in vaginal smear testing

HPV self swab testing will be rolled out from next year Photo: GARO / Phanie

A new cervical cancer screening study will give its participants the option to test at home.

The University of Otago, Christchurch-led, pilot study, backed by Te Whatu Ora's National Screening Programme, will look look for any issues with the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) test, which will be Aotearoa's main screening method for cervical cancer from next year.

About 3000 participants will be able to choose whether to have their test at their doctor's surgery or do it themselves from home.

"It will rigorously examine all parts of the screening pathway, from the invitation to take part, the choice of either at home or in clinic testing, right through to how well test results are communicated and whether any follow up treatments are required and sufficiently actioned," principal investigator and consultant gynaecologist Peter Sykes said.

The HPV self test was much less invasive than a traditional smear test as no speculum was required, instead a swab was used.

A test would only be required every five years, rather than three.

The option to do the test at home would allow people greater access to cervical screening, Sykes told Morning Report.

"We're pretty confident that just the introduction of HPV testing will have a significant impact on the number of cancer cases we see."

Every year 170 New Zealanders were diagnosed with cervical cancer, resulting in 50 deaths per year.

Māori and Pacific people were diagnosed with cervical cancer at significantly higher rates than non-Māori and non-Pacific people.

The University of Otago 2008-2017 Case Review of Cervical Cancer found Māori and Pacific people were more likely to experience barriers to cervical screening prior to their cervical cancer diagnosis when compared to other groups.

"About 50 percent of people who get cancer have not been recently screened...and about a third of people who get cervical cancer have had a test and it's been reported as normal and that number should significantly reduce with the HPV test."

A test taken at home and one taken at a clinic were equally accurate, Sykes said.

The new HPV test was a better test than the traditional smear test, he said, but changes were needed to the screening register before it could be rolled out to the public.

"Which has been the main holdup...there's a big change to systems that's required.

"It has been slower than a lot of people would have liked but it's really around the corner now."

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