Smear tests may soon be a thing of the past thanks to a breakthrough that could allow women to check their risk of developing cervical cancer without needing to visit the doctor.
Researchers say a simple self-sample urine test may soon be a viable screening method, having developed a way to identify potentially dangerous pre-cancerous cells by analysing urine and vaginal samples.
The test identifies changes in DNA caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV),the virus that causes 99% of cervical cancer cases and which can be passed on during sex.
Women could easily collect the samples needed in the comfort of their own home, making the smear test obsolete and likely boosting participation in cervical screening programmes that many would otherwise dread.
Earlier this year, the government launched its first ever campaign to encourage women to attend their cervical smear tests after figures revealed more were skipping the screenings than at any point in the last two decades.
The tests - which can detect the early signs of cervical cancer before the "abnormal cells" become cancerous - are free on the NHS for all women aged between 25 and 64, but many are too nervous to attend.
It is hoped that the development, made at Queen Mary University of London, will see more women getting checked for signs of the disease.
Each year in England, about 2,600 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 690 die from the disease.
Dr Belinda Nedjai, director of the molecular epidemiology lab the university, said: "The initial use of self-sampling is likely to be for women who do not attend clinic after a screening invitation and countries without a cervical cancer screening programme. In the longer term, self-sampling could become the standard method for all screening tests.
"The study indicated that women much preferred doing a test at home than attending a doctor's surgery. We expect the self-sampling test to improve acceptance rates for cervical cancer screening, as well as reducing costs to health services and improving the performance of screening programmes."
More than 600 women with abnormal smear tests or who tested positive for HPV took part in the study.
They were asked to provide vaginal samples collected themselves using swabs, which were then extracted by the researchers for DNA analysis.
The test correctly identified high-risk pre-cancerous cells in 96% of samples.
Dr Nedjai added: "We are currently working on new markers to try to improve the accuracy of the classifier even further, but these findings represent an advance in cervical cancer screening, especially for women who do not attend the clinic, such as older women, or women who find the smear test too painful or who do not have access to a screening programme in their country. We think it's promising."