From a press release by Sheffield Teaching Hospitals:
Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has developed a unique medical probe that could provide a much faster method of diagnosing pre-cancerous cells in the cervix than the traditional “smear test”.
Studies using an electrical impedance probe indicate that early tissue cell abnormalities can be immediately identified, effectively meaning that women could be sent for further investigation and treatment much more quickly.
Abnormal cells found at the end of the cervix are called cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) and are detected by a smear test. CIN develops slowly over many years and if cells are identified early they can be treated and the development of cervical cancer prevented.
Presently, cervical smear testing involves doctors sending off samples for analysis in medical laboratories, a process that can leave women facing an anxious wait of four to five weeks for their results. Smear testing is not always accurate and works on the principle that women are entered into a programme where regular testing will ensure that CIN is detected.
The new probe, which was developed by the Trust’s medical physics team in conjunction with consultants from obstetrics and gynaecology, can be used to accurately identify these CIN cells during an examination, giving doctors a clear indication of whether a woman will need to undergo further tests.
In tissue cells, low frequency electrical currents travel around cells and can inform doctors of cell shapes and how they are arranged. High frequency currents flow through cells and can show up any changes to the internal cell structure including the cell nucleus.
Results from previous studies show that in CIN cells the nuclei increase in size, space between cells increases and there is a loss of cell layering. The readings from the probe measure these changes and can therefore determine whether the cells have become pre-cancerous.