THE prospect that women can soon perform their own 'smear test' at home has been hailed as a promising step towards detecting more cases of cervical cancer early.

The number of eligible women taking part in cervical screening peaked in the wake of Big Brother star Jade Goody's death from the disease in 2009, and now ranges between 62 per cent in young women and 81% among those aged 50 to 54.

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Replacing it with a DIY urine or swab test that women can carry out at home and send away for screening is seen as a way to reach those women who do not attend for smear tests.

The test kit, unveiled at a cancer conference in Glasgow this week, measures chemical changes detectable in urine or vaginal fluid to identify women likely to have pre-cancerous lesions.

It is said to be "pretty accurate" so far, but needs more work.

If it is ever rolled out as a routine screening tool on the NHS, at least we can be assured that it will have been through rigorous scientific testing first.

The same cannot be said of other DIY medical tests, however.

Take the proliferation of home genetic tests for everything from ancestry to disease risk.

Only this week I saw an advert for a DNA test that promised a tailored guide to what I should eat and what exercise I should be doing based on my unique genetic profile.

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This might be innocuous example (though I did wonder if it was any more scientific sound that consulting Mystic Meg), but doctors have warned that these kinds of home health checks need tighter controls.

Geneticists writing in the British Medical Journal in October warned that while many of these 'direct to consumer' DNA tests promised to "provide clear cut information about their future health", in reality they are prone to false positives - especially in people with no family history of a particular disease.

While DNA tests are portrayed as providing super-accurate predictions, when applied in a scattergun way to the population at large it is likely that certain genetic variants - or mutations - will be detected that in fact pose little danger to the individual.

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There are also cases of the tests wrongly picking up 'cancer genes', or mutations for a degenerative brain disease, causing needless worry for patients who then turn to the NHS for help.

Professor Anneke Lucassen, president of the British Society for Genetic Medicine, said these commercial kits "should absolutely not be used to inform health decisions without further scrutiny".

Where home testing is concerned, we should stick to the science.