At-home smear tests in Wales – could they work?

A campaign group which aims to encourage more women to attend their smear test appointments has called for at-home smear tests to be introduced in Wales.

This comes as 4.6 million women in England and Wales missed their smear appointments in 2023, according to Public Health Wales.

Cervical cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women under 35 in Wales. 99.8% of these cases are preventable and can be caught early through smear tests.

Molly Fenton, the creator of the campaign and founder of @LoveYourPeriod, said it is crucial women attend their smear test. She said, “We can only do so much with ad campaigns and cervical cancer awareness days but some people will still not show up for their appointments”.

She said stigma surrounding smear tests needs to be “broken down” and women may feel more comfortable doing their own tests in their homes.

At-home kits were trialed in England in 2021, with over 30,000 women taking part.

Miss Fenton argued there is no reason why it couldn’t be trialed in Wales. The results from the England trial are due to be released later this year.

However, medical professionals have argued that the idea might not be practical. Sarah Butt, a gynaecological radiographer at Singleton Hospital, said there are concerns about the accuracy of at-home testing kits.

She added: “We’ve got the advantages of having those procedures done within a surgery, within a medical setting. They’re done by a medical professional, the tests are carried out and they’re sent off.

“The idea of cervical screening at home is a fantastic idea, but of course, we’ve got the disadvantages.

“False negatives, false positives…the fact the procedure’s not carried out correctly, it could also cause trauma to the patient if they don’t actually know how to carry it out and there is always more advantages doing it in a medical setting”.

Some smear test patients have also said they would be nervous to do the test themselves. CJS News interviewed a number of women in their twenties who have recently been called for their first smear test.

Sarah Butt, Cervical Radiographer at Singleton Hospital

One patient, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “I would rather have the screening in person because I would want to make sure I had done it correctly. I would have a lot more peace of mind this way”.

Another said she would like the option to do it at home as “for some people that could be a really anxiety-inducing experience and very intimidating, especially given it’s not talked about a lot with what you actually experience when going into a clinic”.

Public Health Wales said that this scheme is still in its infancy and it is not something they are unfamiliar with as home kits for bowel cancer screenings already exist. An application has been submitted to the National Research Committee for a nationwide pilot scheme, but they are still awaiting the results of the pilot scheme in England. However, they are still encouraging young women to get their HPV vaccine when they can and to attend their smear test when they are invited to.