The new guideline include some important shifts in WHO’s recommended approaches to cervical screening.
In particular, it recommends an HPV DNA based test as the preferred method, rather than visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA) or cytology (commonly known as a ‘Pap smear’), currently the most commonly used methods globally to detect pre-cancer lesions.
HPV-DNA testing detects high-risk strains of HPV which cause almost all cervical cancers. Unlike tests that rely on visual inspection, HPV-DNA testing is an objective diagnostic, leaving no space for interpretation of results.
Although the process for a healthcare provider obtaining a cervical sample is similar with both cytology or HPV DNA testing, HPV DNA testing is simpler, prevents more pre-cancers and cancer, and saves more lives than VIA or cytology. In addition, it is more cost-effective.
More access to commodities and self-sampling is another route to consider for reaching the global strategy target of 70% testing by 2030.
WHO suggests that self-collected samples can be used when providing HPV DNA testing. Studies show that women often feel more comfortable taking their own samples, for instance in the comfort of their own home, rather than going to see a provider for screening. However, women need to receive appropriate support to feel confident in managing the process.