DIY smear tests should be introduced as soon as possible to reduce cases of cervical cancer, a charity has said.
Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust made the plea in a bid to diagnose the disease at an earlier stage.
The latest NHS figures show only 71 per cent of women are up to date on screening – the lowest rate since records began – and around five million women are overdue.
Reality TV star Jade Goody died of cervical cancer aged just 27 in 2009 and the charity’s campaign comes on the 10th anniversary of her death.
Celebrities including Rebekah Vardy and Tamara Ecclestone have used social media to urge women to get tested, but screening rates have still not risen.
DIY smear tests should be introduced as soon as possible said Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust
Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said self-testing could not come soon enough.
He said Australia and Denmark, which already use home testing, are seeing ‘fantastic results’ in prevention and the number of early diagnoses.
He added that it could be a ‘game changer’ for those with physical or psychological difficulties with the usual test, which is carried out by a medical professional.
The scheme – in which HPV testing kits are sent in the post then returned to the NHS – will be trialled in England with a view to national implementation.
By December 2019, authorities plan to make a postal DIY smear test, that also checks for HPV, available to all women across the country.
Officials hope it will boost screening coverage by reaching women who have ignored invitations for tests because of embarrassment or difficulties getting an appointment.
The pilot scheme was announced as NHS England revealed that cervical screening administration will return ‘in-house’ from June after it terminates the contract with the scandal-hit company currently doing it, Capita.
Jade Goody, who rose to fame after starring in an early series of reality TV show Big Brother, died of cervical cancer aged just 27 in 2009 (pictured in 2008)
Rebekah Vardy took part in a social media campaign called #SmearForSmear in which women posted photos of themselves with smudged make-up in a bid to draw attention to the importance of smear tests, which test for signs of abnormalities in the cervix
The decision follows a series of screening blunders, including Capita’s failure to send invitations or test results to 50,000 patients last year.
HOW JADE GOODY’S DEATH SHONE THE SPOTLIGHT ON CERVICAL CANCER
Jade Goody, a reality TV star who shot to fame after appearing on Big Brother, died of cervical cancer aged 27 in 2009.
Goody was diagnosed with cervical cancer on television while she was featuring on Bigg Boss, the Indian version of Big Brother, in August 2008.
By February 2009, Goody’s cancer had spread to her liver, bowel and groin so she had emergency surgery to remove three tumours.
The same month, Goody was told she had just months to live so she and her partner, Jack Tweedy married on March 12 – she died on March 22.
Later in the year, cervical screening rates rose sharply in the UK in what was dubbed the ‘Jade Goody effect’.
She had brought such a high profile to the disease the number of women screened in 2008/9 was 3.6million, up from 3.2m the previous year, The Guardian reported.
Then-Health Secretary Andy Burnham said: ‘These figures show the remarkable effect that Jade Goody’s tragic case has had in reversing a downward trend in the number of young women attending cervical screening.’
Although screening rates have since dropped again, Goody’s mother, Jackiey Budden, continues to use her daughter’s legacy to encourage women to get tested.
Last month she told This Morning people think smear tests are ’embarrassing or they’re scared’, adding: ‘It takes five minutes and I’ve never, ever missed one.’
Uptake rates for cervical screening are the lowest in 21 years, with nearly a third of women ignoring their last appointment letters.
Professor Sir Mike Richards, who is leading a review of NHS cancer screening programmes, told MPs the DIY tests will follow a scheme tried in the Netherlands, where postal kits boosted uptake.
‘We may get to a different segment of the population by offering HPV self-sampling sets through the post,’ he told the Commons public accounts committee.
Home testing has been made possible by the creation of a more sensitive cervical test which uses a swab to test for the HPV virus.
Health officials said the self-sample pilot schemes are likely to involve women who have missed screening, with a kit sent to them within a month of a failure to respond to an appointment.
Studies have found the tests are nearly as accurate as those done in a clinic.
And women who missed screening appointments were twice as likely to provide a sample for testing as they were to respond to reminders to come to a clinic, Belgian research found.
Around 3,200 British women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year and 1,000 die with the disease annually.
But these rates are projected to rise by nearly 40 per cent in the next 20 years.
Experts say another 2,000 women would die every year without the screening programme.
Charities said the introduction of self-sampling could benefit thousands of women who are too embarrassed to go for tests as well as those with a disability and survivors of sexual violence.
Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: ‘We have been calling for this for a long time and believe this could be a game-changer.
‘Other countries are already seeing very positive results of HPV self-sampling, with those who have delayed attending for many years choosing to take the test.
‘It is now crucial that this pilot moves forward quickly to ensure we are not left behind in our vision of eliminating cervical cancer.’
WHAT IS A SMEAR TEST?
A smear test detects abnormal cells on the cervix, which is the entrance to the uterus from the vagina.
Removing these cells can prevent cervical cancer.
Most test results come back clear, however, one in 20 women show abnormal changes to the cells of their cervix.
In some cases, these need to be removed or can become cancerous.
Being screened regularly means any abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix can be identified at an early stage and, if necessary, treated to stop cancer developing (stock)
Cervical cancer most commonly affects sexually-active women aged between 30 and 45.
In the UK, the NHS Cervical Screening Programme invites women aged 25-to-49 for a smear every three years, those aged 50 to 60 every five years, and women over 65 if they have not been screened since 50 or have previously had abnormal results.
Women must be registered with a GP to be invited for a test.
In the US, tests start when women turn 21 and are carried out every three years until they reach 65.
Changes in cervical cells are often caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), which can be transmitted during sex.
In January 2018, women shared selfies with smeared lipstick on social media to raise awareness of the importance of getting tested for cervical cancer in a campaign started by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.
Celebrities including model and socialite Tamara Ecclestone, former I’m A Celebrity! star Rebekah Vardy and ex-Emmerdale actress Gaynor Faye joined in to support the #SmearForSmear campaign.
Socialite Tamara Ecclestone supported the Jo’s Trust’s #SmearForSmear campaign