A pap smear is a common screening tool for cervical cancer in most countries with comprehensive health systems. If this test is positive, meaning abnormal, the doctor generally examines the cervix through a colposcope, which allows for a closer look for problems that cannot be seen with the naked eye. A new cancer detection device, consisting of a cellphone app, a smartphone, and a clip-on lens may soon replace colposcopy, or at least substitute for it when a colposcope is not available. The device, made by MobileOCT, won the start-up company first prize at Vodafone’s Wireless Innovation Project Competition, held last week.
Due to the cost of video colposcopes, which run between $10,000 and $14,000, health providers, particularly in small communities or developing countries, often resort to examining the cervix using a flashlight for lack of the proper equipment. When abnormal tissue is found during a standard colposcopy a biopsy is usually done. Due to the inaccuracy of using a flashlight and the naked eye for the exam, health workers without the expensive equipment tend to err on the side of caution, ordering tests that are frequently unnecessary. MobileOCT CEO Ariel Beery says they overtreat five out of six times, as well as missing early-stage cancers.
Chief Technology Officer at MobileOCT Dr. David Levitz says the new smartphone technology takes a “ubiquitous device” and builds a low-cost, portable screening platform. The MobileOCT screening software and hardware cost a total of $400. It works by using the lens to take images of the cervix, which can then be analyzed for cancerous cells. As with typical photos taken on a cellphone, the new detection device images can be zoomed in and out for closer examination, much as with a colposcopy. The images can then to sent to a doctor who decides whether or not treatment or further tests are necessary.
Cervical cancer occurs when abnormal cells found in the cervix become cancerous. The pap smear can detect abnormal, potentially precancerous cells by scraping some of the cells from the cervix which are then examined under a microscope. Pap smears do not diagnose cancer. Other tests, such as colposcopy, are needed to more closely examine the cervix. The colposcopy uses a lighted magnifying glass that resembles a pair of binoculars. A camera attached to this colposcope takes videos or pictures of the cervix. If problems are seen during the colposcopy a biopsy may be taken.
As results from clinical trials are not yet available there are no peer-reviewed articles at this time. However, the company has already used the cellphones to conduct cervical cancer screenings for 1,000 low-income women. The device is set to go into multiple pilots and field trials in the near future.
MobileOCT is an Israeli company based in Tel Aviv. Their website says their first focus is cervical cancer but they plan to develop similar screening systems for other types. Since the cellphone device is not yet available to healthcare providers, colposcopy will not be replaced just yet for cervical cancer detection.
By Beth A. Balen