BLOG: A fighting chance to save women's lives
V4 adenocarcinoma of the cervix Public Health Library

 By Kate Moodabe GM, Total Healthcare PHO

COVID-19 doesn’t deserve to get all the attention it does, while our dear old friend the human papilloma virus (HPV) can be found sitting in the corner largely ignored. 

HPV may look mightily similar to the glory-seeking COVID-19, but these two viruses are killing people in New Zealand at enormously different rates.

With cervical smear screening numbers dropping for some years now – a result of the Auckland measles outbreak, the aforementioned pandemic, and a sharp rise in digital technology and telehealth – it’s time to do something dramatically different.

Thankfully, our knight in shining armour has arrived cutting a swathe through cervical smear scare, dread and delay in the form of the highly anticipated HPV self sampling research project.

Total Healthcare, along with WDHB/ADHB and CMDHB, are relieved to be able to announce the commencement of an 18-month research project at Local Doctors clinics in the next few weeks.

While all women who are overdue a smear (or in some cases have never had one) will be eligible, there will be a particular focus on Māori and Pasifika women as these groups have the highest proportions of never and under-screened women. Māori women in particular are dying from cervical cancer at a rate two to three times higher than other ethnicities.

From previous feasibility studies we have found that Māori women are 10 times more likely and Pasifika women six times more likely to do HPV self sampling than have a cervical smear.

The self-sampling test will be offered opportunistically in three designated Local Doctors clinics, one in each DHB area, and women can either choose to do it in the clinic or take the test home.

The test is in the form of a swab (which looks remarkably similar to a COVID-19 swab) inserted in the lower part of the vagina – there is no need for a speculum to be used and no need to find the cervix. Any woman who has undergone a smear test will be utterly relieved to hear this news.

The self-sampling test is quick, easy and more accurate than a cervical smear – meaning mortality could be reduced by a further 15‒17%.  If the test comes back positive, a nurse specialist will contact the woman and discuss the next steps.

Total Healthcare is aiming for about 3,500 women to take this test over the research period. The results of the real-world clinical-setting research can inform the national rollout in the next three‒five years and make a real difference to decreasing death from this preventable cancer. 

* Note the picture at the top of this blog shows a microscope view of indications of cancer of the cervix. The new HPV self-sampling test research project offers hope to boost screening rates and reduce cervical cancer deaths. (Photo: CDC/Public Health Image Library).

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