NHS Cervical Screening Programme approves new HPV tests and issues guidance for laboratories

Cervical screening saves an estimated 5,000 lives a year by detecting abnormalities of the cervix early and referring women for effective treatment.

Cervical screening laboratory staff at work
Testing cervical screening samples in the laboratory

The NHS offers cervical screening to all eligible women aged 25 to 49 every 3 years and those aged 50 to 64 every 5 years.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus transmitted through sexual contact. Some high risk sub-types of  HPV (HR-HPV) are linked to the development of abnormal cells and can cause cervical cancer.

HPV testing in cervical screening

If screening results show borderline or low grade abnormal cell changes, laboratories perform a test for HR-HPV. This is known as HPV triage. If they find HR-HPV then the woman is referred to colposcopy. If HR-HPV isn’t found women can be safely returned to normal recall.

The NHS Cervical Screening Programme (NHSCSP) has now approved the 2 new tests below for use in HPV triage and test of cure screening protocols. These protocols help decide if the woman should be referred for further assessment or recalled again for routine screening in another 3 or 5 years’ time.

  1. BD Onclarity HPV test with SurePath samples performed on the BD Viper LT System.
  2. Cepheid Xpert HPV assay with ThinPrep samples performed on the Cepheid GeneXpert Dx System or GeneXpert Infinity System.

You can find details of all HPV tests currently approved for use in the NHS CSP on GOV.UK.

New guidance for laboratories providing HPV testing

The NHSCSP has also published guidance for laboratories that provide HPV testing in the programme.

This document:

  • provides guidance on internal quality control and quality assessment procedures relevant to HPV testing
  • was developed in response to queries and feedback from labs and local screening providers
  • aims to standardise practice in this area
  • reflects the standards implicit in ISO15189:2012

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  1. Deirdre

    The Netherlands does not begin screening until age 30. All tests are HPV tests and a self-test kit is offered as an alternative. They offer screening 5 yearly but if negative, the tests after age 40 are spaced at 10 year intervals. Altogether, a Dutch woman can expect to get only 5 tests in her lifetime. They have some of the lowest rates for cervical cancer in the world. In the UK, HPV negative women will be expected to undergo at least 12 tests, 25-29 year olds are constantly hassled to get tested and there seems to be no shortage of money to run these "initiation" campaigns. Every year headlines criticise women for failing to adhere to the 3 year deadlines, and we are made to feel it's a crime to not be up to date with screening .
    How is it that our neighbouring countries have evidence that a fraction of the tests at a fraction of the costs works just fine, and we don't?

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