The UK's Daily Mail (12/1, Hagan) reports, "A hand-held device could slash the time it takes to diagnose cervical cancer from several weeks to just a couple of minutes," and "ease the trauma of smear-testing." According to its developers at Sheffield University, the device "uses a technology called electrical impedance to monitor the presence of abnormal cells." This is notable, because "electricity passes through different types of tissues at varying speeds. Cancerous cells tend to have much lower levels of impedance, which means they conduct electricity at a faster rate than healthy cervical cells." Thus, "within a couple of minutes, the APX probe can translate this information into a computerized image that details potential cancerous hot spots."
The device to diagnose cervical cancer apparently looks something like this TV remote control.
Several points about the short report struck me. Turn around time for pap smears in the UK for one. 4 to 5 weeks seems long even in a socialized health care system and may negate the ability to perform HPV testing on the residual volume (the story does mention liquid based testing). Another few weeks for colposcopic follow-up does not seem as unreasonable as the popular press makes it out to be for a disease process that is typically indolent and takes years to manifest and progress from pre-invasive states to invasive conditions.
We will see the downstream effects of Ireland's agreement with Quest to perform pap smear interpretations to deal with their needs but what will become of folks trained to do this or future training within the country? This may become a lost skill entirely in Ireland due to onshoring of pap smear services from overseas.
The details on the electrical impedance are scant but naturally and tool or technology that will increase accuracy and help improve false negative and false positive results is welcome.