University Of Florida Study To Test New Pap Smear Technology
JACKSONVILLE–A University of Florida researcher is launching a nationwide program that will provide low-income women with a new tool in the battle against deadly cervical cancer.
The program, in turn, will provide research data that will help determine if computerized Pap smear screening technology can assist in preventing cancer in women who sometimes do not have annual gynecological examinations.
Under the program announced today, thousands of poor women will have their Pap smears double-checked with the help of a computer to make sure technicians–who are looking for a needle in a haystack–have caught all signs of abnormal cervical cells. The system is expected to reduce the problem of “false negatives” that inaccurately give women a clean bill of health when cancer may be developing.
Studies have indicated that in the traditional Pap smear screening process, as many as one-third of the cases of abnormal cells may be missed. If such cells are not treated, they could become cancerous. An estimated 15,700 American women will be diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer this year and 4,900 women will die from it.
Neuromedical Systems Inc., developer of the PAPNET screening system, is making its test available free to indigent women who seek treatment at 10 academic health centers around the country during the next two years. UF’s Health Science Center/Jacksonville, which is spearheading the program, is the only site so far to be named.
In the PAPNET process, laboratory technicians continue to conduct the first review of a Pap smear slide. If no abnormal cells are detected, however, it is subjected to further analysis. A PAPNET computer examines the slide and projects any suspicious-looking cells it detects onto a color video screen for another thorough review by a technician.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the system for commercial use last year. It is one of two FDA-approved products on the market that use computer technology to combat human error.
Dr. Shahla Masood, associate pathology chairwoman and associate research dean at the UF’s Health Science Center/Jacksonville, approached NSI early this year with the idea of providing the test to poor women.
“We felt it was our responsibility to make PAPNET available free of charge to women who will benefit from it but may not have the means,” says Dr. Laurie Mango, NSI medical director. “Indigent women are less likely to have regular medical checkups, including Pap smears, and for them, an accurate analysis may mean the difference between a treatable condition and a fatal disease, as it may be several years before they are tested again.”
Masood, who is serving as medical director of the PAPNET Access Program, will review statistical data from across the country to determine if the test is an effective tool for helping low-income women.
Most insurance companies do not pay for the PAPNET screening, which costs patients about $40. “If it proves to be a good test, we want to alert insurance providers and government that it must be available to all women,” Masood said.
“The goal of this program is to expand and improve cervical cancer screening for all women, regardless of their socioeconomic status,” she said. “The use of this new technologically advanced rescreening method, coupled with appropriate patient follow-up, will increase screening accuracy and ideally, encourage these women to seek screening on a more regular basis.”