For most women, pap smear tests are a necessary but often uncomfortable experience they have to endure every few years. And afterwards, they may have a stressful few weeks waiting for the test results. A cervical cancer screening device currently being trialed in Europe could signal the end of pap smear testing. Zilico’s system consists of a portable, handheld device and a base unit and as opposed to pap smear tests, can provide a result in a matter of minutes.

The system consists of a handheld device and docking station and, according to Zilco, is accurate, safe and completely painless. The handheld device has a pencil-shaped probe that is covered in a single-use sterile disposable sheath. When the cervix surface is reached, the doctor presses a button on the handset. This generates a mild electrical current which can be instantly analyzed to see how it passes through the cervical cells. Cells that are pre-cancerous will conduct electricity at a different rate to normal, healthy cells.

The system uses a technique called electrical impedance spectroscopy (EIS). This measures the impedance or resistivity of cells across a range of frequencies and produces a spectrum showing cell changes and abnormalities. The handheld device is wirelessly linked to a computer program that can highlight areas with pre-cancerous cells.

Medical diagnostics company Zilico began the European trial in April 2009 and plan to test around 600 women across four centers. Sameer Kothari, CEO of Zilico, commented: “Our most recent published data has given us the confidence that the device is accurately measuring the true state of the underlying tissue of the cervix. This trial will further underwrite this.”

The virus human papilloma virus (HPV) is the major cause of cervical cancer in women, a disease which kills thousands of women every year. Cervical cancer vaccines such as Cervarix and Gardasil are now available for girls (before they are sexually active) throughout the EU and USA. These vaccines offer protection against most but not all strains of HPV. However, the length of immunity is still not known, women over the age of 13 will still require screening and not all girls and will decide to be immunized. Additionally, the vaccine does not provide protection against all strains of HPV and women will therefore still be at risk of developing cervical cancer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2005, nearly 12,000 women in the U.S. were told they had cervical cancer and nearly 4,000 women died from the disease. The treatment of cervical cancer in the U.S. every year costs an estimated $2 billion dollars.

A cervical cancer screening device such as this one from Zilico may prove to be a time-saving and convenient option for women the world over.

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