Cervical cancer is the fourth leading cancer in women in the United States. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), an estimated 12,820 cases in the country was diagnosed in 2017. Meanwhile, an estimated 4,210 died from the disease. On a global scale, cervical cancer amounts to over 500,000 diagnoses each year.
In comparison to other types of cancer with annual death tolls and diagnoses exceeding hundreds of thousands, cervical cancer is considered rare. The numbers against cervical cancer were not always as favorable, however. The downward trend towards diagnosis and the mortality rate rests upon the fact that cervical cancer is now preventable thanks to vaccination. What’s more, diagnosis is made easier.
How is Cervical Cancer Tested?
According to Mayo Clinic, cervical cancer can be screened through a Pap test or an HPV DNA test. A Pap test is a routine checkup for women of childbearing age, requiring a doctor to scrape and brush cells from the cervix, which are then sent to a lab for examination.
If there are suspicious cells visible from the Pap test, a doctor may request a colposcopy. This procedure is performed in a doctor’s office and may take anytime between 10 to 30 minutes. This enables doctors to get a closer look at the cervix and examine it for any abnormal cells.
A metal speculum is inserted into the vagina to hold it open so that the doctor can examine the cervix. Then the colposcope, a special magnifying instrument, is positioned a few inches away from the vulva. Your doctor will then look through the lens, aided by a bright light that is shone into the vagina. If there are any suspicious cells, the doctor may then perform a biopsy.
The Speculum Conundrum
While the Pap test is available to most people in the world, colposcopy requires the use of expensive equipment that may be unavailable in some localities. Due to this, women living in more rural communities are hard pressed to find a professional who performs a colposcopy, which delays the diagnosis.
The Pocket Colposcope
To augment this, researchers from the Duke University has developed a device that aims to balance the scales. The device, aptly called “pocket colposcope,” can be used by women from all walks of life. They can attach the device to a smartphone or a laptop to take images of their cervixes, thereby making the procedure more accessible and affordable.
The pocket colposcope removes the need for a metal speculum. The slender device, which resembles a pocket-sized tampon, is equipped with a camera and lights. This enables women to take good photos of their cervix.
“We recruited 15 volunteers on Duke’s campus to try out the new integrated speculum-colposcope design,” said Mercy Asiedu to Science Daily. She is a graduate student who is working on the project with Dr. Nimmi Ramanujam. “Nearly everyone said they preferred it to a traditional speculum and more than 80% of the women who tried the device were able to get a good image. Those that couldn’t felt that they just needed some practice.”
If this device ever makes it to the market, then screening for cervical cancer will certainly be more accessible, even for those who are in disadvantaged socioeconomic circumstances.