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HPV Primary Testing to enhance cervical screening programme

Monday, 23 July 2018

Improvements to the Island’s cervical screening programme will offer better outcomes for women with the introduction of a new test which will find more of those at risk of cervical cancer.

The Isle of Man is to be one of the early adopters of human papilloma virus (HPV) primary screening, a new way of examining routine cervical screening samples. The updated screening programme for women aged 25 – 64 is being introduced across England next year.  

From 1 August 2018 cervical screening samples from Island patients will first be tested for HPV, as the majority (99.7%) of cervical cancers are caused a persistent HPV infection. Under the current system, samples are screened for abnormal cells – using cytology – and only tested for HPV if an abnormality is detected. Testing for HPV first ‘flips’ the process. If HPV is found, it is a useful guide as to whether abnormal cells are present and further cytology can be carried out.

There will be no change for patients when they have their test. Letters inviting women for screening will be sent out in the normal way and the procedure for having the sample taken at the GP surgery will be exactly the same. Evidence suggests screening for HPV first is a more effective way to alert women they’re at risk of developing cervical cancer, ensuring further investigation and treatment is carried out at an early stage, to prevent the disease. Where no HPV is found women can be reassured they’re at very low risk of developing cervical cancer.

Director of Public Health Dr Henrietta Ewart said: ‘This is very good news for women in the Isle of Man. The new test offers a single-stage, more sensitive test for detection of the virus while confirming a longer-term low risk after a negative result. Cervical screening saves thousands of lives every year in the UK. The change is a breakthrough as the new test will ensure the first signs of disease are spotted and treated earlier. It’ll also mean we can make better use of the colposcopy service at Noble’s, where woman are referred for examination when abnormalities are found.  Adopting HPV Primary Screening puts us ahead of the curve as we will be among the first places to offer it.’

The new test service will be provided by Liverpool Clinical Laboratories, the first English laboratory to convert its cervical screening service to HPV Primary Screening ahead of UK national implementation in 2019.

Staff involved in the Island’s cervical screening programme, including GPs and practice nurses have completed a training programme which explores the background to the new test and the various administrative changes required. Among the benefits will be an increased emphasis on educating women about the link between HPV and cervical disease.

Leaflets explaining HPV Primary Testing will be sent with invitations to the test.    

Find out more about HPV Primary Screening 

In this short video, lead for public health protection Jacqui Dunn explains the benefits of the test

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