REPLACING smear tests with DIY kits that allow women to test themselves at home could "save lives".
The tests detect human papillomavirus (HPV), which increases a woman's risk of developing cervical cancer.
A new study has found women are twice as likely to take the at-home HPV tests given the option, when compared with going for a smear test.
Smear tests are a vital tool in detecting pre-cancerous cells before they turn into cervical cancer.
But experts warned earlier this year, around three million Brits haven't had a smear for three-and-a-half years.
Health bosses said cervical cancer screening rates are at their lowest level in two decades, prompting Prime Minister Theresa May to call on women to make sure they take up the invitation to have a smear, in Parliament today.
Charities said the move could "save lives" adding DIY tests done in the privacy of a woman's home could help tackle the barriers women face when it comes to having a smear test.
Karen Hobbs, at The Eve Appeal, told The Sun it's "encouraging news".
She said HPV tests are 90 to 95 per cent accurate, compared to current testing, which is 70 to 80 per cent reliable.
"If women who aren't able to access the cervical screening programme, due to appointment times or physical disability, or feel too embarrassed to undress to be examined by a doctor or nurse, are willing to do the HPV test in the comfort of their own homes, this means more women are being screened for cervical cancer," she said.
"Ultimately more lives will be saved."
Robert Music, chief exec of Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust agreed.
He said: "It's very positive to see further research showing the benefits of HPV self-sampling and hopefully this can help it become a step closer to reality in the UK.
"Self-sampling is a much more accessible test making it easier for many groups, including those who live a long way from their nearest clinic or struggle to get appointments, who have physical disabilities, have had a previous bad experience or who have survived sexual violence, to name only a few.
"The sooner we act on this, the closer we will be to our vision of eliminating cervical cancer."
To test how accurate DIY tests are, a team of scientists conducted reviews of the results from more than 70 separate clinical trials.
Their findings, published in the BMJ, found HPV tests performed at home by women are just as good at detecting pre-cancerous cells as tests carried out by medics.
The scientists reviewed two different HPV tests, and found both returned slightly more false positive results when done by the women themselves, rather than a nurse.
That means there's a risk a woman would be told she had pre-cancerous cells when she didn't.
The scientists also found offering self-sampling kits to women who failed to go for smear tests could boost screening rates.
Symptoms of cervical cancer
There are no obvious symptoms during the early stages of cervical cancer.
However, vaginal bleeding can often be a tell-tale sign – especially if it occurs after sex, in between periods or after the menopause.
That said, abnormal bleeding is not a definite sign of the condition – just a possible indicator.
Nevertheless, it should be investigated by your GP as soon as possible.
They can refer you to a specialist within two weeks if they have further concerns.
Other warning signs include:
- pain and discomfort during sex
- unusual or unpleasant vaginal discharge
- pain in your lower back or pelvis
And if it spreads to other organs, the signs can include:
- pain in your lower back or pelvis
- severe pain in your side or back caused by your kidneys
- peeing or pooing more than usual
- losing control of your bladder or bowels
- blood in your pee
- swelling in one or both legs
- severe vaginal bleeding
Women sent the kits were more than twice as likely to provide a sample than they were to respond to a letter inviting them for a smear test.
The researchers said the DIY kits could prove vital in countries where there is no formal screening programme – with more than 80 per cent of women taking up the offer.
Most cervical cancer cases occur in women who have never been screened for cervical cancer, or do not participate regularly in routine screening.
Use of self-sampling for HPV testing may increase coverage substantially, the authors say.
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Cervical cancer rates have been falling in most first-world countries thanks to the screening programmes.
But in recent years, that progress has halted.
About three million women across England haven't had a test for at least three and a half years.
Professor Anne Mackie, director of screening at Public Health England, said along with leading charities and the NHS, PHE is "concerned about the fall in the number of women taking the test".
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