Smear tests are less sensitive than HPV tests, say researchers
At-home screening tests for the virus responsible for most cervical cancers could detect many more cases of the disease, say Dutch researchers.
Although cervical screening programmes have cut deaths, not all women take up the invite from the GP.
But self-test kits for human papillomavirus (HPV) could double the number of women diagnosed, the British Medical Journal reported.
Trials of self-testing for HPV are currently being done in the UK.
There are more than 100 types of HPV, which is sexually transmitted, but only 13 of them are known to cause cancer.
Although most HPV infections clear up by themselves, in some women it persists and cause damage to cells which may eventually develop into cervical cancer.
A vaccine against the two main types of HPV was introduced in the UK in 2008 for schoolgirls.
But the NHS has also been piloting HPV testing as an "add-on" to traditional screening - to pick out those most at risk.
In the latest study almost 28,000 Dutch women who had not responded to two invites to attend the regular screening programme were sent an at-home screening kit for HPV.
A smaller group were sent a third invitation for routine screening.
More than a quarter of those sent kits returned a completed test kit, compared with only one in seven who responded in the recall group.
Those who self-tested and had a positive result were then referred for further tests.
Importantly, those women who had also not taken up the offer of the previous round of screening had a higher risk of abnormal changes in their cervix.
The researchers said more than half of cervical cancers in countries with screening programmes are diagnosed in women who have not attended routine testing.
Stephen Duffy, Cancer Research UK's professor of cancer screening, said: "While it's important for women to attend cervical screening appointments, some find it difficult to do so for cultural or other reasons.
"For these women, self-sampling for HPV may be an option.
"Its acceptability and effectiveness are currently being researched here in the UK."