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 campaign comes as celebrities including Rebekah Vardy and Tamara Ecclestone have used social media to urge women to get tested.
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.
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 HPV? THE INFECTION LINKED TO 99% OF CERVICAL CANCER CASES
Up to eight out of 10 people will be infected with HPV in their lives
Human papilloma virus (HPV) is the name for a group of viruses that affect your skin and the moist membranes lining your body.
Spread through vaginal, anal and oral sex and skin-to-skin contact between genitals, it is extremely common.
Up to eight out of 10 people will be infected with the virus at some point in their lives.
There are more than 100 types of HPV. Around 30 of which can affect the genital area. Genital HPV infections are common and highly contagious.
Many people never show symptoms, as they can arise years after infection, and the majority of cases go away without treatment.
It can lead to genital warts, and is also known to cause cervical cancer by creating an abnormal tissue growth.
Annually, an average of 38,000 cases of HPV-related cancers are diagnosed in the US, 3,100 cases of cervical cancer in the UK and around 2,000 other cancers in men.
HPV can also cause cancers of the throat, neck, tongue, tonsils, vulva, vagina, penis or anus. It can take years for cancer to develop.