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The end of the pap smear?

Most of us don’t exactly jump for joy at the thought of getting our biennial pap smear. There’s no denying it’s an invasive, uncomfortable procedure, which is part of the reason why more and more women are delaying their tests or avoiding testing altogether.

An easier, less-intrusive alternative to the pap smear would probably increase compliance and help to prevent more cases of cervical cancer, particularly if it’s a test that could even be done in the comfort of our own homes. So, it’s rather exciting to see that researchers from Britain and Spain have proposed an alternative screening method: urine tests.

A urine test could be just as effective at detecting pre-cancerous cells as a pap smear — meaning it may very well replace the practice of getting a smear altogether in the future, according to a meta-analysis published in the British Medical Journal.

The researchers analysed data from 16 articles reporting on 14 studies, which considered 1,443 women in total, concluding that testing urine samples for HPV “seems to have good accuracy for the detection of cervical HPV”.

We need alternative methods to pap smears, experts argue, because women are missing their screens — particularly those who are aged 25-30.

In the U.K., cervical screening rates have fallen below 80 per cent and rates are also declining in Australia. This is partly due to the introduction of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which prevents disease infection from the sexually-transmitted diseases that can lead to the development of cervical cancer. However, the vaccine doesn’t prevent against all strains of HPV — so, screening is still essential for all women, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated.

But it’s not only those of us who find the whole smear process awkward who would appreciate a cervical cancer urine test. Women in rural areas with limited access to health services, as well as those in low socioeconomic households, would also benefit.

So, watch this space — but in the meantime, please make an appointment with your GP if you’re due for a screen.

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