A new device developed at Duke University aims to improve cervical cancer screening by replacing uncomfortable speculum exams and high-cost colposcopes with a device that would allow for at home self-screening.
Initial results obtained with the device were published in the study, “Design and preliminary analysis of a vaginal inserter for speculum-free cervical cancer screening,“ in the online journal PLOS One.
The device, referred to as a “pocket colposcope,” is a miniature pen sized-colposcope which can connect to many home devices including cellphones and laptop computers. Healthcare providers, or even patients themselves, are able to insert the device and manipulate it into position to capture images of the cervix.
Visualization of the cervix to identify atypical changes is the key to early diagnosis. Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer in women with more than 10,000 cases diagnosed annually in the United States. The disease is highly treatable upon early identification.
Although a non-specialist can administer a Pap smear, trained professionals skilled with colposcopes are difficult to find in many low socioeconomic areas. This leads to increased rates of cervical cancer in underserved communities.
The study, which recruited 15 volunteers to try the new design, showed that adequate images of the cervix were captured in 83 percent of patients. Additionally, 92.3 percent of patients reported that they preferred the device over a traditional speculum exam. A speculum is a medical device with the form of a hollow cylinder used to investigate body orifices.
“The mortality rate of cervical cancer should absolutely be zero percent because we have all the tools to see and treat it,” Nimmi Ramanujam, the Robert W. Carr Jr. Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Duke, said in a press release. “But it isn’t. That is in part because women do not receive screening or do not follow up on a positive screening to have colposcopy performed at a referral clinic. We need to bring colposcopy to women so that we can reduce this complicated string of actions into a single touch point.”
Researchers are now working on a clinical trial to directly compare the results of the device against a traditional speculum exam with colposcope. Future advancements also include working to automate the process through machine learning to teach computers how to spot signs of precancerous and cancerous cells.