The new self-smear test: do we want to be tested for HPV?

HPV is the cause of most cervical cancer. The relatively new vaccine against it hopes to deliver some immunity (for how long? –  there are stories yet to be told). The problem is that it is very hard to tell who will not naturally clear HPV infection by themselves – most women do. This article commissioned by the BMJ examines a new self-test kit which offers to do a cervical smear as often as you want and when you want it. My issue is that screening always comes with potential harms, and that these haven’t been adequately accounted for within this test: and that it is going to end up creating an awful lot of dilemmas with potentially little gain.

2 Responses to “The new self-smear test: do we want to be tested for HPV?”

  1. Esther Thompson June 19, 2010 at 2:36 pm #

    If most women have the HPV virus at some point in their sexual life and most clear the virus naturally, then this self test should not supercede the normal smear test . Changes in cells on the cervix occur over time so even if a woman has a positive test result from this new HPV test, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there are abnormal cells and that treatment is required. At least a normal smear actually detects abnormal cells and not just detect a virus which may, in time, eradicate itself anyway without causing no changes to the cells.
    I think this is a private company making money out of something that worries alot of women when the standard smear test done through the NHS is a reliable service as any. Surely if this new test confirms a positive result a further “normal” smear will need to be done anyway to detect for abnormal cells. This surely takes away the bonuses of having the home test done anyway!

  2. Margaret McCartney
    margaretmccartney June 20, 2010 at 9:57 pm #

    agree, but the ‘normal’ cervical screening test comes with many problems, not least false positives, and the invasive tests which follow to ‘manage’ this, which come with the potential for harm. see here, for example…