Mira Katz, professor in the college of public health at Ohio State. Credit: Courtesy of the College of Public Health

An Ohio State pilot study featuring an at-home HPV test had high rates of success in reaching women in Appalachia Ohio.

According to the CDC, 39.9 percent of women in the United States have HPV, the human papillomavirus, which is a sexually transmitted disease and the leading cause of cervical cancer in women. At-home tests for HPV have been researched globally, but not many have achieved the high rate of returned tests Ohio State’s “HPV Self-Testing Study” has received.

When researchers Mira Katz, a professor in the College of Public Health at Ohio State, and Paul Reiter, an associate professor also in the college, saw the discrepancies among cancer screenings in women in Southeast Ohio, they decided the Appalachian counties would be their targeted sample group.

“When you look at the state of Ohio, what you tend to see are higher cervical cancer rates in [the Southeast],” Reiter said.

Katz said in Appalachia Ohio — the southeastern part of the state that accounts for 32 of the 88 counties — there is a “significantly” higher rate of cervical cancer in women. Katz said that compared with other parts of the state, women in the Appalachian counties do not have as much access to medical care, which leads to less HPV screening and fewer follow-ups if they do test positive for the virus.

The test group included 103 Appalachian women ages 30 to 65 who had not

been tested for HPV in the previous three years, who were not currently pregnant or pregnant within the previous three months, had no history of invasive cervical cancer and had no history of a hysterectomy, Katz said.

Katz described the self-test as being similar to a tampon and said the women were given instructions on how to complete the test and send it back.

Katz and Reiter expected their test results to be similar to those received globally.

To their surprise, Katz and Reiter’s test had a 78 percent test return rate, as opposed to the international average of about 40 percent.

Katz attributes the study’s return rate to the fact that the women involved had to agree to be a part of the study first, which may have eliminated women who were possibly less health conscious.

Reiter said the next step is to take the sample size of women to a larger scale in hopes of estimating the impact a test like this could have on society.

“It will give us a much better idea of the population impact that we could have,” Reiter said.

Katz said that in several countries, such as Australia and the Netherlands, there have already been at-home HPV tests implemented in cancer prevention programs. Though this is not yet the case in the U.S., Katz hopes something similar will be in place to reach at-risk women.

“If women won’t come to a clinic, maybe this is a way we can reach them,” Katz said.