May 12, 2023 -- Mailing do-it-yourself sampling kits to test for cervical cancer doubled the rate of screening in a population of low-income and under-screened women, researchers say.
The self-sampling kits, which detect human papilloma virus (HPV), are available only for use in clinical trials, but the researchers hope that eventually these kits will be approved for use by the general public.
The researchers, from the University of North Carolina, explored use of these kits in the My Body, My Test-3 study, which was published online Thursday in the journal Lancet Public Health.
Experts writing in a commentary published with the study said it “provides the required evidence that … self-collected samples can be an effective strategy for hard-to-reach populations.”
The study involved 665 women (aged 25-64) in North Carolina who were either uninsured or enrolled in Medicaid or Medicare. The patients had low-income backgrounds and lived in urban areas. More than half self-reported as Black or Hispanic (55%), uninsured (78%) or unemployed (57%). None had had a Pap smear in at least 4 years or a high-risk HPV test in the last 6 years.
Two-thirds of the women were mailed an HPV self-collection kit and received assistance with scheduling an in-person screening appointment. The kit included a Viba-Brush device, which is inserted into the vagina like a tampon to collect the sample.
The other third of women, the control group, only received scheduling assistance.
The team found that mailing the self-collection tests along with helping women book in-clinic appointments improved screening rates twofold compared to just assisting patients to schedule an appointment.
Screening success among those who received the at-home collection kit was 72% compared to 37% in the control group.
Of those who received the kits, 78% returned them. This is “impressive,” say the authors of the commentary, as previous studies have reported return rates of only 8%-20%.
About 23% of eligible women are overdue for cervical cancer screening by at least a year, according to the National Cancer Institute. Jennifer Smith, PhD, MPH, professor of epidemiology at the University of North Caroline Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health and an author of the study, believes every woman deserves equal access to cervical screening.
"I think we really need to make efforts to increase cervical cancer screening among women who are overdue for screening by a year or more from the recommended guidelines," Smith said. "We've proven along with the wide evidence both in the U.S. and globally that self-collection intervention works well and can motivate screening uptake by breaking down barriers for populations that have less access to care."
"We’re hoping this research in combination with all of the extensive evidence on the positive performance of HPV self-collection will provide additional information to be considered by the FDA for approval of the kits for primary screening," Smith said.
“Government approval of at-home HPV tests would have a huge impact,” said co-author Noel Brewer, PhD, also of UNC Chapel Hill. “We could better reach those in rural areas where cervical cancer screening is hard to come by.”