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At-Home Cervical Cancer Test Increases Screening Rates

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Monday, November 18, 2019   

SEATTLE – An at-home test could be a major breakthrough for screening cervical cancer in women, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Washington and Kaiser Permanente Washington teamed up on a study involving 20,000 women who weren't getting regular screening.

Half were mailed home tests for human papillomavirus, or HPV – the virus that can cause cervical cancer. The other half received just standard care such as annual reminders for preventive screenings.

Diana Buist, a senior investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute, says the mailed tests increased screening rates by 50%.

"Which is a lot,” she states. “The women that we tested the home test kit on were under-screened, which means that they were overdue for cervical cancer screening, and that's about one in four women in the United States. And 50% of cervical cancers are diagnosed in those women."

About 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year.

Buist says screening rates are declining across the country. She notes home-based testing has been offered in other countries, but this is the first trial of home kits in the U.S.

Rachel Winer, an epidemiology professor at the UW School of Public Health and lead author of this research, says studies have shown there's no difference between the results from at-home tests and ones performed by physicians.

She says health professionals are looking to overcome the barriers to screening more women.

"It can be hard to find time to come in, difficulties taking time off of work or finding child care or transportation,” she points out. “In addition, many women have had negative experiences with cervical cancer screening or pelvic exams in general."

Winer says not all the women who tested positive followed up and so the next step will be figuring out how to get them to see a physician.

But she notes 88% of women who did the home kit tested negative.

"That means that if you were to roll this out, only 12 out of 100 women who did this would actually need to come in for additional follow-ups,” she stresses. “So you're saving the need for that clinic visit for 88% of women."

Disclosure: Kaiser Health Plan of Washington Project contributes to our fund for reporting on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Health Issues, Hunger/Food/Nutrition, Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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