Early signs of cervical cancer are not being detected in many cases because women are either too embarrassed or busy to attend smear tests, research has suggested.
Scientists believe that home kits to detect symptoms of the condition could improve survival rates.
Self-sample tests sent to women who had taken no notice of two previous correspondences was a better approach than another letter reminding them their examination is due, scientists have said.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) detection kits were sent to 1,500 study participants and a further 1,500 women received written notifications.
In the first group, 96 women (6.4%) completed the home test, with eight testing positive for HPV and one woman found to have an invasive cancer. A further 57 (3.8%) were prompted to book a smear appointment with their GP.
Only 68 women (4.5%) in the other group went for cervical screening after getting their third reminder.
Study author Dr Anne Szarewski said: “Women who don’t go for cervical screening face a higher risk of cervical cancer, so it’s important to encourage these women to take part.
“Home testing for HPV is as accurate as samples taken by doctors and can help address some of the reasons, like finding time or being embarrassed, that women often give as reasons for not attending screening.”
HPV is a major cause of cervical cancer, but the proportion of women who have been screened at least once in the past five years has dropped to 78.9%.
The study was carried out by Cancer Research UK on Westminster Primary Care Trust patients, and the charity wants to widen trials to other areas.
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