At-home HPV tests now available across Canada. What to know

Click to play video: 'Processes for HPV self-tests, screening needed before widespread use: Canadian Partnership Against Cancer'
Processes for HPV self-tests, screening needed before widespread use: Canadian Partnership Against Cancer
WATCH: Processes for HPV self-tests, screening needed before widespread use: Canadian Partnership Against Cancer – Sep 25, 2023

A new at-home test for the human papillomavirus (HPV) in now available across Canada — at a cost — as doctors urge for better access to cervical cancer screening in the country.

The testing kit by Switch Health can be bought online and is available across the country except for the northern territories and Prince Edward Island.

It costs $99 and screens for high-risk genotypes of HPV, including subtypes HPV 16 and 18 which accounts for 70 per cent of cervical cancer cases, according to company’s website.

“This test taps logistics networks to get to one’s home and back to the lab without someone ever having to leave their home,” said Mary Langley, co-founder of Switch Health, in an interview with Global News.

“I think what sets our kit apart from other tests that are currently used is the technology and the software behind the kit itself and how it’s available across Canada,” she added.

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A box of the HPV testing kit pictured here. Photo provided by Switch Health

The testing kit includes an instruction manual, specimen label, Rovers Evalyn Brush, alcohol prep pad, biohazard bag and a Purolator return shipping bag.

The test allows anyone who has a cervix to collect a sample of vaginal specimen with a brush before it can be sent for processing by accredited labs.

What’s different about this test is that it does not involve inserting a speculum in the vagina to separate its wall as is done in a doctor’s office — which many people find uncomfortable, said Dr. Nancy Durand, an associate professor in the department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Toronto.

“When you perform it at home, you don’t need that instrument,” she told Global News.

In this case only a brush is used to collect the vaginal sample, which is like putting a cotton swab inside, Durand said.

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“It’s actually really easy — and for that reason, the women’s satisfaction with uptake of this test is extremely high.”

The test should not be performed during menstruation or pregnancy. The results can be available within three to five days, Langley said.

Test results will become available via a secure online portal that can be downloaded and printed. Those who do a test are encouraged to discuss any concerning results with their doctor. Switch Health says it will work with those without a doctor to “facilitate access to a follow-up consult through our network of healthcare partners.”

Click to play video: 'HPV self-sampling ‘exciting possibility’ for cervical cancer screening: doctor'
HPV self-sampling ‘exciting possibility’ for cervical cancer screening: doctor

The launch of the testing kit, which was announced Tuesday, comes as several provinces are phasing out the Pap smear in favour of the HPV test for cervical cancer screening.

New guidelines published Monday suggest self-screening tests for HPV could be one way to improve access for those otherwise facing barriers.

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HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in Canada, with more than 70 per cent of sexually active adults estimated to develop it at some point in their lives.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says HPV is the primary cause of cervical cancer especially if the infection persists, but most infections resolve on their own without symptoms.

As of September, the self-test is only utilized by some jurisdictions, including B.C. which launched the first at-home HPV cervix screening pilots in 2021. New Brunswick also announced last month that as part of its transition to HPV tests, self-sampling will eventually be introduced as well.

Click to play video: 'HPV self-testing could help people without a primary care physician: doctor'
HPV self-testing could help people without a primary care physician: doctor

With Switch Health’s launch, there will be a “wider reach” for HPV testing, Langley said. This test has been available for purchase online for three weeks and the company has already received “great feedback” on it, she added.

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Some Canadian provinces are moving from Pap smear to HPV testing, which Durand said is more accurate at detecting abnormal cells in people who then may need treatment.

“The Pap test, which has been done for decades, is a good test, but this is a better test for detecting those people who need to be seen.”

— with files from Global News’ Sean Previl

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