In a groundbreaking move towards enhancing women’s health and preventing cervical cancer rates from the continuing incline, new guidelines outlined in the Journal of the American medical association (JAMA), suggest that direct-mail self-sampling kits for HPV, increased cervical cancer screening by 14% in those who were past due for their pap smears.
A study in JAMA found that the most effective way to increase screening rates was a direct-mail approach for individuals overdue for screening, rather than simply encouraging a pap smear appointment or implementing an “opt-in” approach, where women who chose to receive at-home sampling kits would receive them in the mail. With this new discovery, many Canadian provinces and US states are moving away from traditional pap smears, recommending the use of HPV tests which detect high-risk strains of the virus, with screenings offered every 5 years for those aged 25-65.
The move towards at-home HPV testing is gaining traction, with the potential to significantly improve early detection rates for abnormal cells and possible subsequent cervical cancer. Dr. Aisha Lofters, a scientist and physician at Women’s college hospital in Toronto, ON, notes that self-swabs for HPV, similar to Covid-19 at-home swabs, could overcome barriers such as scheduling constraints, traumatic experiences or a lack of awareness.
“Pap smear accuracy is around 60%. However, in HPV testing, which examines the DNA of the virus, accuracy can rise to 90%”, explains Dr. Gina Oglivie, who led pilot projects on at-home tests in British Columbia. The increased accuracy of HPV testing allows doctors to have more confidence in negative results, providing a clearer indication of a woman’s health status.
Drawing inspiration from successful initiatives abroad, particularly in Australia where self-testing for HPV has proven an effective approach, healthcare professionals are optimistic about the potential impact of at-home HPV screening. Dr. Diane Francoeur, CEO of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC), claims the shift to HPV at-home tests is one of the greatest revolutions for women’s health possibly since the invention of the birth control pill in the early 60’s.
While the HPV vaccine is one effective method for prevention of high risk HPV strains, Francouer emphasizes the need for continued screening, as not everyone receives immunizations. She envisions a future where women can easily access testing kits, similar to the convenience of obtaining COVID-19 swab tests from local pharmacies.
Dr. Craig Earle, CEO of the Canadian Partnership against cancer, echoes the sentiment of completely eliminating cervical cancer by the year 2040 and sees the switch to HPV testing as the solution to addressing various obstacles to screening, including equity issues. However, he acknowledges the challenges faced by provinces and states in adapting to this new approach, including the need for a revamped lab infrastructure to accommodate a shift such as this one.
Can you imagine a world in which we’ve eradicated cervical cancer? The introduction to at-home HPV screening emerges at a transformative step, offering women a more accessible, accurate and empowering option for safeguarding their health.
Let’s continue this conversation over at our instagram. You tell me, would you prefer to self-screen for HPV?