These days, you can get just about anything delivered to your doorstep, from food and drinks to a new phone or TV, and even birth control, condoms, and at-home STD kits. And as of January 15, you can now get an at-home HPV screening kit.
Telemedicine start-up Nurx — which also delivers birth control, emergency contraception, and the HIV prevention medication PrEP to the privacy of your home — launched the at-home HPV test kit to test for the high-risk types of human papillomavirus (HPV) that are most commonly found in cervical cancer.
Overall, in a statement, Nurx said they aim to make it easier for people who traditionally lack easy and affordable access to health care services. The Home HPV Screening Kit is $69 cash or a $15 co-pay with insurance.
“Nurx offering home vaginal self-swab is of high importance, given that cervical cancer is one of the most preventable diseases,” Dr. Kendra Segura, MD, MPH, an OB/GYN in Southern California and creator of the blog Your OB/GYN Next Door, tells Bustle. “Cervical cancer comprises 12 percent of all cancers among women worldwide and is the fourth most common cancer after breast, lung, and colon cancer.” She says that one of the many barriers for early detection of abnormal cells or HPV strains that puts someone at risk for cervical cancer is a “no show,” a patient not present for her appointment. “Barriers to care include transportation, lack of a consistent home address, no home phone or cell phone and, quite frankly, a lot of women dread the speculum exam,” Dr. Kendra says.
Plus, there's a huge stigma surrounding HPV, which unfortunately means not everyone feels comfortable getting tested at the doctor’s office.
The Correlation Between HPV And Cervical Cancer
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are more than 150 strains of HPV out there. If you get HPV, the body often naturally clears it from your system before complications arise, Dr. Michael Krychman, MD, OB/GYN, sexual medicine gynecologist and the executive director of the Southern California Center for Sexual Health and Survivorship Medicine, tells Bustle. However, there are 13 types of high-risk strains that can lead to cervical cancer among women. And, the CDC states that HPV is thought to be responsible for approximately 91 percent of HPV-associated cervical cancers. Plus, given that January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, it’s the perfect time to take care of your cervical health.
But to help detect cervical cancer, women need to make sure to get tested. Last week, the Mayo Clinic released a new study that revealed cervical cancer screenings in the United States are “unacceptably low.” Less than two-thirds of women aged 30-65 were up-to-date with cervical cancer screenings, and even fewer women were being tested below the age of 30 and among women of color. So, an at-home HPV test can help many women get access to HPV screening who may not have easy access otherwise.
As for how HPV is passed from person-to-person, it’s through contact during vaginal, anal, and oral sex, Dr. Sherry A. Ross, women’s health expert and author of she-ology. The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period., tells Bustle. And when the body does not clear the infection on its own, you can be at risk for cervical cancer, which is why HPV testing becomes so important. It's the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI), with over 90 percent of women and 80 percent of men exposed to it. “But there is absolutely no reason to feel shameful if you tested positive for HPV — it’s easily and innocently transmitted,” Dr. Ross says.
How The At-Home HPV Test Works
To use the at-home HPV test, you first download the Nurx app and answer a few questions about your health history. Then, their physicians will review your information, determine if you’re a good candidate, and ship you the at-home HPV kit. Next, you’ll complete a simple vaginal swab and send the sample back to the lab in a pre-paid envelope. Within a few days, Nurx’s medical team will reach out to you to discuss your results. If the test is positive for HPV, they will urge you to see a doctor. And if you don’t have a doctor, they’ll work with you to make sure you get the care you need. So it’s a win-win either way. At the moment, Nurx is available in 20 states and Washington, D.C.
“Home HPV testing can be [empowering] for women,” Dr. Krychman says. “Knowing your risk or getting a better understanding of your risk, or lack thereof, is an opportunity for women to take better care of themselves. And be careful not to panic — a positive test doesn’t translate into cancer, but does warrant evaluation,” he says. However, he says that at-home tests should always be used with caution for sensitivity and specificity, as well as discussed with your healthcare professional. “At-home testing should never be a substitute for diligent care with a trained healthcare professional specializing in women’s health,” he says.
Dr. Kendra agrees. “Thus far in the literature, self-swab compared to in-clinic provider collection was found comparable,” she says. “Limitations of most studies included patients that have existing HPV, making detection rates higher.” She says to keep in mind that there is insufficient evidence regarding the best method for self-collection — i.e., a swab, a Cytobrush, or other sampling methods — so more research and studies are needed.
“But, overall, this at-home test is a great idea and lends another option for patients who otherwise do not have access to speculum examination,” she says.
All in all, it’s better to have more testing options than not — especially in the privacy of your own home — and it gives you even more reason to get tested for HPV. Most importantly, it helps keep you in charge of your health, which should be first and foremost.