A new potential method of increasing attendance rates in screening are screening tests taken at home by the women themselves. These so-called self-sampling tests have been shown to be reliable for cancer screening purposes.
When using self-sampling tests, the women to be screened receive a sampling device with user instructions by mail. They use the device to take a sample from the vagina and cervix at home, and mail it to the screening laboratory. In the laboratory the sample is then analysed for human papillomavirus (HPV). A prolonged HPV-infection can lead to pre-cancerous lesions and cancer of the cervix.
The self-sampling test currently in use in Finland is a saline-filled syringe. Pushing the plunger of the device in releases the saline into the vagina and around the cervix, and releasing the plunger then causes the saline to be aspirated back into the device with a cell sample. Sample taking is safe, fast and pain-free.
The results of the screening test are mailed to the participant in a personal letter within sex weeks from the arrival of the sample to the screening laboratory. If the sample tests positive for HPV, the participating woman will also be referred to further examinations that show whether the infection has lead to cell abnormalities. For women aged under 40, the examination will be a Pap-smear, and for women aged 40 or older it will be a colposcopy (an endoscopy of the vagina and cervix). Women whose sample tests negative for HPV do not need further investigations until the next invitation to screening (in five years).