A clearer, faster way to pick out potentially cancerous cells in cervical smear tests could benefit women who live in the developing world.
Using the lab facilities available in an Indian hospital, scientists led by Dr Nick Coleman of the Medical Research Council?s Cancer Cell Unit, compared a new cell staining technique to the standard slide searching method.
They found that not only was the colour staining method five times faster, but the scientists agreed 100% on results. It took only two minutes for testers to find rogue cancer cells when the stain pinpointed them. In comparison, it took up to ten minutes to search for oddly shaped cells using the standard ?Pap? method and testers shared the same results only 85% of the time. The results are published in full in the British Journal of Cancer.
The team collaborated with doctors and laboratory technicians working at Kidwai Memorial Hospital of Oncology in Bangalore, India. The work was funded by both the Medical Research Council and Cancer Research UK.
Reading a Pap smear test is a highly skilled task. To look down a microscope lens at a slide smeared with cells scraped from a woman?s cervix and find the few that differ in shape to their neighbours requires years of expensive training. Afterwards, it can be difficult to keep people in post in India. This lack of experts combined with often insufficient lab facilities can make reading smear test results difficult in developing countries.
This is just one of the factors that means cervical screening is not available to the majority of women who live in developing countries. It follows that they are at a much greater risk of developing cervical cancer than those who live where screening is routine. More than 126,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year in India alone, in the UK the figure is closer to 2,800.
The researchers hope that by making smear tests easier to read more women will have access to screening and, as long as treatment can be given to them, fewer women will die from what in the developed world is a preventable disease.
Dr Coleman said “Cervical screening is limited to specialist institutes in India so most women don?t have access to a smear test, if more women were screened, the number who go on to develop cancer could potentially be reduced. A test that allows a laboratory technician to find these cells faster, more easily and with greater certainty, should make cervical screening available to more women, as it is a lack of lab resources that prevents women from accessing this potentially life-saving test.”