What is a home HPV test?
A cervical screening (or “smear test”) is something most adult women will have experienced.
It’s a short, routine appointment where you visit your GP to have your cervix swabbed. The purpose is to check the health of your cervix by looking for high-risk types of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common infection that can cause cancer in some people.
Recently, a few new schemes have been announced in the UK that will allow women to do their own at-home HPV tests. In certain areas of London, a trial called YouScreen is being offered. This trial will offer a home test kit to 31,000 women who are 15 months overdue for a cervical screening. Other similar trials are taking place elsewhere in the country.
This kind of home test kit has come about for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a response to medical services being less widely available during the pandemic. Second, cervical screenings are often skipped because many women feel scared or embarrassed, or have a disability that stops them from attending.
It’s hoped that these at-home tests will boost the numbers of women getting checked for high-risk HPV.
What a home HPV test looks for
As with a cervical screening you would have at your GP surgery, a home test kit looks for high-risk types of human papillomavirus.
HPV is a term for a family of viruses which are sexually transmitted and very widespread. Most types of HPV don’t cause any symptoms and aren’t harmful, but a few strains are known to cause cancer in some people. Other strains can cause genital warts, although these types aren’t looked for in a cervical screening.
How a home HPV test works
It’s really simple. The test kit will come with a cotton swab or a soft brush that you insert carefully into your vagina. Unlike a cervical screening, the swab won’t need to touch the cervix, which means most women should find it pain-free. Doing a home test kit doesn’t require any other equipment like a speculum.
Once you’ve taken your sample you can return the swab to the protective packaging provided, and post it back or drop it at your GP surgery.
Find out more by watching this instructional video from YouScreen.
What happens if HPV is found in your sample
If high-risk HPV cells are found using this testing method, a follow-up appointment will be needed. Your GP will need to do a standard cervical screening where they brush away a few cells from your cervix to find out if any of them are abnormal.
It’s worth bearing in mind that even if your test detects high-risk HPV this doesn’t mean that you’ll get cancer. By having a cervical screening your doctor will be able to tell whether you need more tests.
If you have high-risk HPV but no abnormal cells, you won’t need any more medical attention for the time-being. If you have high-risk HPV and you also have abnormal cells on your cervix, you’ll probably need a colposcopy.
A colposcopy is a hospital appointment where a doctor looks at your cervix using a microscope and a light. During the examination they might take a small amount of tissue from your cervix so they can look at it more closely.
Even if you end up needing a colposcopy, this isn’t necessarily cause for concern. If abnormal cells are found during this examination, there are treatments for getting rid of them.
How to get tested for HPV if you’re not in the trial
If you’re an adult woman in the UK, you’ll be invited to a free cervical screening by your GP, normally once every 3-5 years. You might need to go more often if a past test has shown the presence of high-risk HPV.
Get the HPV vaccine from LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor
The HPV vaccine protects against strains of the virus that cause cancer, as well as genital warts. If you’re under 25, transgender, or a man who has sex with men, you can get the vaccine free on the NHS. The vaccine is also free for school children.
If you’re not eligible for a free vaccine on the NHS, you can request one through LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor. Find out more by visiting our HPV vaccination clinic.