Pap smears are invasive, uncomfortable, and often inaccurate. They also might soon be a thing of the past. British company Zilico is in the trial stages of a handheld cervical cancer screening device that offers up accurate results in minutes instead of the weeks women have to wait for a pap smear result.
Zilico’s device looks like a remote control with a probe on the end. Doctors simply insert the probe to the cervix surface, press a button that generates a small electrical current through the cervical cells, and voila, instant warning for precancerous cells. (Despite the frightening prospect of the zap, it’s all reportedly painless.) The electrical impedance spectroscopy (EIS) system works because precancerous cells conduct electricity at a different rate than healthy cells. In comparison, pap smears take a small sample of cervical cells on a spatula and send results to a lab for testing.
The new cervical cancer screening system has already been tested on 500 European women with promising results. If all goes well, the device could end the need for HPV vaccines that only provide limited protection against the virus. Similar technology could also be used in early breast cancer and prostate cancer detection.