Patient self-testing and disease prevention

June 24, 2024

During the pandemic, I was tested for COVID-19 in a laboratory. This test really scared me. The lady testing me stuck the swab so far up my nose, I was afraid I was going to get hurt. I never wanted to get tested again. I wasn’t alone feeling this way — some people were even injured from too deep swab tests. When COVID-19 self-testing kits came out, I was relieved. It probably encouraged people to keep testing when they started showing symptoms of a respiratory illness.

This spring, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the United States’ first human papillomavirus (HPV) self-collection tests for women. These tests will now allow women to self-collect vaginal specimens for HPV in healthcare settings, including physician offices, retail pharmacies, clinics, and mobile vans. The samples will then be sent to a lab for testing. Cervical cancer is preventable, and screening plays an important role in early detection. However, over half of the cervical cancer cases in the United States are among women who have never been screened or who do not participate in routine screening.1 Allison McMullen from Roche shared with me that there are many reasons for this: “Some may live in areas without many health resources. Some may have a history of a traumatic experience, cultural concerns, or are embarrassed to receive screenings.” Allison said, “By providing women the option to perform self-collection, we can reduce some of the barriers to participation and increase the level of screening.”

HPV is the cause of most cervical cancers, and there are many strains of HPV viruses, with some posing a higher risk for causing cancer than others. According to the National Cancer Institute, the full public health impact of prophylactic HPV vaccination on reducing cervical cancer rates will not be realized for at least another generation.1  So improving screening access is very important in prevention efforts.

The National Cancer Institute has been working in a public-private partnership called the Cervical Cancer “Last Mile” Initiative to improve cervical cancer screening to underserved and neverscreened/underscreened women. Part of this initiative is the Self-collection for HPV testing to Improve Cervical Cancer Prevention (SHIP) Trial. Abbott, BD, and Roche self-collection devices are part of this trial. Dr. Jeff Andrews of BD shared that participant enrollment begins this summer, and the trial will evaluate the usability, acceptability, accuracy, and effectiveness of self-collection testing in healthcare and other settings, including at home.

I welcome your comments and questions — please send them to me at [email protected].

1 Sahasrabuddhe V. Addressing a “last mile” problem in cervical cancer screening. Accessed June 11, 2024.