Self-testing for Human Papillomavirus (HPV) – the virus that causes cervical cancer – is as effective at detecting cancer as a conventional smear test (cytology screening) even when scaled up to test large populations.
Researchers from Queen Mary University of London conducted a pilot study of 100,242 Mexican women – the largest study of its kind – aged 25-75 and from low-income backgrounds. Around 11% of women tested positive for HPV (10,863 women).
However, when self-testing was rolled out on this scale, the number of women referred to clinics for follow-up tests rapidly increased. The findings revealed the quality of clinical care then went down, as clinics were unable to handle the high number of patients.
Attila Lorincz, Professor of Molecular Epidemiology and lead author, Queen Mary University of London, Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, comments:
"Our findings show that large-scale HPV screening can be successfully implemented by home testing. However, if a positive result is received, it's imperative that all other follow-up services are strengthened so they can accommodate the big increase in screened women. This is one of the huge challenges we face in developing countries like Mexico and will continue to work on.
"Cervical cancer is hard to treat and sadly very deadly – but it is also highly preventable. In the UK every woman should be screened for cervical disease by visiting their GP, but if they cannot or will not do this, then we recommend requesting a self-testing device so they can have an HPV test at home."
Despite established smear testing programmes in Mexico, cervical cancer rates remain high. This study, published in the International journal of Cancer, shows self-testing works as an alternative to smear testing when rolled out in a large scale and could be particularly beneficial in countries shown where smear testing programmes are poor. In addition, self-testing is desirable because it poses fewer barriers to access for women living in areas with little access to health services.
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Notes to the editor
A link to the full paper can be found here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ijc.28639/abstract
About Queen Mary University of London
Queen Mary University of London is one of the UK's leading research-focused higher education institutions with 17,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students.
A member of the Russell Group, QM is amongst the largest of the colleges of the University of London. QM's 4,000 staff deliver world-class degrees and research across 21 academic departments and institutes, within three Faculties: Science and Engineering; Humanities and Social Sciences; and the School of Medicine and Dentistry.
Queen Mary is ranked 11th in the UK according to the Guardian analysis of the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise, and has been described as 'the biggest star among the research-intensive institutions' by the Times Higher Education. In 2012, a Queen Mary study was awarded Research Project of the Year at the Times Higher Education Awards. The university has been nominated again in 2013.
In 2014, Queen Mary was positioned 35th among 130 UK universities in the Complete University Guide and 36th according to the Guardian University Guide. The 2013-4 QS World Rankings placed us 115th of 700 universities worldwide and 19th in the UK, while the 2013 Shanghai Jiao Tong Academic Rankings of World Universities placed us in the top 30 in the UK and in the top 201-300 bracket worldwide.
QM has a strong international reputation, with around 20 per cent of students coming from over 150 countries. The university has an annual turnover of £350m, research income worth £100m, and generates employment and output worth £700m to the UK economy each year. QM is unique amongst London's universities in being able to offer a completely integrated residential campus, with a 2,000-bed award-winning Student Village on its Mile End campus.
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