A better test for cervical cancer

April 18, 2001

Australian scientists from CSIRO have contributed to the development of a revolutionary cervical cancer detector with the potential to save lives and replace the PAP smear.

The TruScan cervical cancer detection system is being developed by Australian company, Polartechnics Ltd, and offers instant results and greater accuracy than PAP smears.

The device uses a pen-like probe to collect information directly from the cervix about the colour and electrical properties of cervical tissue. A computer attached to the probe analyses the data and classifies the tissue as healthy, pre-cancerous or cancerous.

CSIRO made a major contribution to the system by developing advanced mathematical algorithms to analyse the spectral and electrical data.

Mr Victor Skladnev, Managing Director of Polartechnics, says that CSIRO's expertise ensured the accuracy of the system, speeding both its development and its approval for use in Australia and overseas.

"We had expertise in developing advanced data collection devices but we needed additional high quality mathematical input on the analysis side. CSIRO has provided these methods and tools," he says.

CSIRO'S Dr Daniel McMichael says the collaboration was a good example of how mathematical skills closely integrated with a company's development process can be a key generator of success in high technology projects.

"Polartechnics needed TruScan to be significantly better than its competition. We showed how to optimise its performance relative to PAP, and provided the mathematics and programs for doing it."

Each year 300 women in Australia and hundreds of thousands of women around the world die from cervical cancer. Early detection is the key to prevention.

More than 100 million women around the world visit their GP each year for a PAP smear, which represents a $3 billion global industry. PAP smears have been used for half a century to detect changes in the cells of the cervix - an early sign of cervical cancer.

The TruScan system is expected to save millions of dollars in pathology costs, since it eliminates the need to take scrapings from the cervix for assessment by pathologists.

The device collects spectroscopic (colour) and electrical impedance information from cervical tissue (impedance is a measure of the total opposition to the flow of an electrical current and includes resistance and capacitance).

This information is analysed using CSIRO-developed mathematical algorithms to accurately classify the tissue.

Mr Skladnev says that clinical testing of TruScan has shown it to be at least 20 per cent more accurate than the PAP smear.

"Because it is much more sensitive than the PAP smear - which misses about half of all cervical disease - it will certainly reduce the number of incidences of misdiagnosis,'' he says.

"The benefits for women are a less invasive test and a quicker result. This eliminates the stress of waiting for results and means that, when necessary, treatment can begin immediately. For doctors it means less time spent sending specimens to pathology labs and waiting for the results to return,'' says Mr Skladnev.

TruScan will be released in Europe this year and on the Australian market in 2002. The US market, which accounts for half of all PAP smear tests, will follow soon after.

CSIRO Australia

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