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£1.5m funding boost for at-home cervical cancer testing for older women

Following a change in the NHS screening programme, some older women were not screened for HPV. This project aims to change that with an easy-to-use at-home test
Doctor in gloves holds brush for smear and glass in lab. Credit: Canva/Alexander's images

A new project using an at-home test to detect Human papillomavirus (HPV) is being trialed in Hull and Manchester, thanks to £1.5 million funding from the charity Yorkshire Cancer Research.

In 2019, the NHS Cervical Screening Programme changed from looking for cell changes to screening  for HPV, which is linked to nearly all cases of cervical cancer. However, women aged over 65 are not automatically invited for cervical screening, and the women in this age group will have stopped screening prior to this change.

The ‘Catch-up Screen’ project, which is led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) in collaboration with the University of Manchester and University of Hull, will offer an HPV test to these women by working with local GP practices. It is anticipated that 10,000 women in Hull and Manchester will be invited to participate in this project, which aims to discover if at-home tests are an effective way to reduce cancer in this older age group.

Unlike traditional cervical screening, which can sometimes be painful, the ‘Catch-up Screen’ project will only require women to provide a urine sample, which is an effective way of testing for HPV. The team hope that this will encourage women who were not screened regularly to take part.

Women testing positive for HPV will be referred for further tests and treatment if necessary.

Clare Gilham, Assistant Professor at LSHTM, said: “The NHS cervical screening programme has been one of the most successful in the world. But in England, where half of all cervical cancer deaths are now among women over 65, we need to ensure that these women are not missing out on life-saving screening just because the national programme stops at 65 years of age.

“This funding will allow us to find out whether a simple at-home urine test can effectively reduce deaths from cancer in women aged 65 and older. We will be looking at the frequency of HPV and diagnoses of pre-cancer and cancer, as well as uptake rates of the test, to help us decide whether these tests could be used more widely.”

The first women in Hull and Manchester will be invited to participate in this research in April 2023.

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