HPV Home-Testing A Future Possibility

Human papillomavirus (HPV) home-testing kits may be recommended by physicians in the near future, a research study conducted by the Unit of Cancer Epidemiology at the Scientific Institute of Public Health in Brussels has concluded. The research group has found that certain home tests can detect precancerous cervical cells from self-collected samples with almost the same accuracy as a clinical test. Self-collected samples are, however, still not as efficient at detecting precancerous growth — so the research team would not yet recommend home testing as an effective way of diagnosing HPV.

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cervical cancer used to be the leading cause of cancer death for women in the U.S. but has significantly decreased due to the effectiveness of Pap tests. Yet Marc Arbyn, who authored this latest study, says that it is HPV tests, rather than Pap smears that are "the new standard of cervical cancer detection."

Some strains of HPV are directly linked to cervical cancer risk, while others appear to have no negative effect on a woman's health. A 2011 study by the CDC found that 43 percent of girls and women between ages 14 to 59 are infected with HPV. A vaccine for HPV does exist but the CDC also found that only 33 percent of girls aged between 13-17 had received the full, three-dose vaccination in 2012.

But the vaccine is controversial. As Bustle reported back in November, Katie Couric featured an unscientific and emotive report on the negative effects of the HPV vaccine on her show late last year.

There is also evidence to suggest that the HPV vaccine may not protect African-American women. Apparently, black and white women tend to have different HPV subtypes—and the standard vaccine protects against the ones more often found in white women. Which would surely be another public health issue if the vaccine was to be rolled out nationwide.

However, as Attila Lorincz of London's Queen Mary University suggests, HPV self-testing may find acceptance the way chlamydia self-testing has, boosted by a public health campaign.