Repeating human papillomavirus (HPV) tests within short intervals of each other reduces the number of women referred for unnecessary treatment, says a Swedish study.
The research, published in the British Journal of Cancer, studied 2,800 women who took a self-sample HPV test at home and, if positive, a repeated test at a clinic between one and three months later.
If a participant's second test came back positive, it was more likely there were abnormal cell changes on the cervical lining – treating these changes could prevent cervical cancer from developing.
Out of the 188 women who tested positive in the first HPV test, 44 women (23%) had moderate cervical changes or worse on further examination.
When the 188 women were tested a second time, 88 still had an HPV infection and 36 of these women (41%) had moderate cervical changes or worse.
Professor Ulf Gyllensten, lead author of the study based at the Uppsala University Hospital in Sweden, said: "This study confirms previous evidence that repeating the HPV test reduces the number of women who are sent for other more invasive tests – when in fact they do not have any serious cervical changes on further examination.
"This still works if women are able to do the first test at home, which can help overcome some of the emotional and physical barriers to cervical screening."
The HPV test was rolled out as part of the existing NHS cervical screening programme in the UK in April.
"HPV tests may encourage a women to attend for screening either if overdue or if test positive she may request an early repeat. The HPV test will be another aid in the follow-up of abnormal cervical tests and should prevent the follow-up of abnormal results if not positive for HPV. I personally do not think women should be buying self tests but should be tested on the NHS if indicated. We may only be getting the worried well, who can afford this test to follow up neg and positve tests with their GP" - Karen Gray