New self-test for cervical cancer can save lives

Cervical cancer testing kit

Providing Māori and Pacific Island women with a new way to be screened for cervical cancer could help reduce the mortality rate of the disease in New Zealand.

“Cervical cancer causes unnecessary and preventable morbidity and mortality in New Zealand and increased burden of disease is unfairly placed on Māori women,” says Kate Moodabe, general manager of Total Healthcare. “Their mortality rate is 2.5 times higher than non-Māori.

“We have had years of under-screening in these women, and one of the major contributors is their distress and embarrassment about the invasive nature of a cervical smear test in a clinical setting.”

Study on self-testing
Two years ago, Total Healthcare participated in a study of 41 previously unscreened or under-screened women at three of its medical centres in South Auckland to assess a vaginal swab test that is self-administered. The study aimed to engage women who had shied away from the option of the standard cervical smear in a clinical setting.

Women were encouraged to use the swab test, either in their home or in privacy at the clinic, to test for the human papilloma virus (HPV) that can develop into cervical cancer. Special care was taken to ensure clear information was provided and the process itself was easy to follow, and clinic nursing staff also received training as part of the study.

During the trial, the swab test picked up HPV in four women who had never presented for a smear.

Swab test funding next step 
“We would like to see this swab test funded and offered to our high needs women who are not presenting for screening – either regularly or at all – and hopefully provide a proof of concept that will see its uptake throughout New Zealand,” says Kate Moodabe.

Approximately 160 women are diagnosed and 60 women die from cervical cancer in New Zealand every year. In addition, South Auckland has the highest Pasifika population in New Zealand.