Dreading your next visit to the gynae for your annual pap smear? Fear no more, two innovative South African scientists have developed a simple do-it-yourself pap smear kit that can be used in the comfort and privacy of your own home.
The home "pap smear" test is a world first, and was developed by microbiologists Andreas Karas and Jonathan Keytel. All sexually active women are advised to have annual pap smears in order to detect signs of cervical cancer.
"We chose a pap smear alternative as many women find the process for collecting the smear embarrassing and so neglect to screen or do not have easy access to screening facilities," said Keytel in an interview with AFP.
Cervical cancer really CAN be beaten
After breast cancer, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer affecting half a million women worldwide every year. Fortunately, it is also one of the most preventable cancers if signs of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) are detected early.
"A large proportion of the world's women do not for various reasons have regular pap smear examinations. Women aren't screening themselves, yet the technology is there," Keytel told AFP.
Combining two methodologies
The home kit, called Sen-C-Test, is the unique product of two proven methodologies, namely a self-sampling or DIY collection method and a laboratory test to detect high-risk strains of HPV, the primary cause of cervical cancer.
"The innovation is new. We have taken proven methodologies and combined it into one product. It is especially novel because it is a self-sample test," Keytel said.
For a mere R30, you can purchase the Sen-C-Test at your local pharmacy. The test kit consists of a test tube with a clear solution. The woman inserts a regular tampon for three to eight hours, a week before the onset of her menstruation cycle, and then removes the tampon and places it in the test tube.
The clear liquid inside the tube is actually a special solution that protects and seals the cervical and vaginal cells on the tampon. The woman must then take the tube back to the pharmacy from where it is sent to a laboratory to test for signs of HPV. This testing process will cost about R400.
The test has a 96 percent accuracy rate. And the woman will get her results within ten days via either fax, phone, email or a doctor's appointment – whichever means that she specified on a form in the kit.
Karas got the idea for the home kit after working in eastern KwaZulu-Natal a few years ago where he used tampon sampling as a means of diagnosing sexually transmitted diseases.
"We particularly want to target those women who are not currently going for regular pap smears. This will allow them to establish whether or not they're at high risk of developing cervical cancer," Keytel told AFP.
Cervical cancer – the stats
In South Africa, more than 4600 cases of cervical cancer were reported in 2000 of which 52 percent resulted in deaths. In the US, 12 900 new cases are reported annually, 4400 of which resulted in death.
After doing some market research, the microbiologists discovered that 81 percent of women would prefer to give themselves a pap smear in the privacy of their own homes, instead of going to the gynaecologist who uses a small spatula and brush to scrape off cells from the lower portion of the uterus, or cervix.
It is not just the embarrassment and discomfort that women feel that put them off going for regular check-ups, "In Muslim countries, men often forbid their wives to go to the gynaecologist," Keytel said.
Only available in South Africa
The Sen-C-Tests have been available in South Africa since December last year, but its manufacturers are looking at expanding into the international market. "We have received a lot of positive feedback from all parts of the world. We are also hoping to expand to the Middle East but we will probably wait at least another year for that," Keytel said.
When asked how the medical fraternity has received the DIY pap smear, Keytel said: "For the most part they welcome it, although some doctors feel we are invading their territory. But our real aim is to target those women who don't go for screening, and then when they detect the cancer it is too late." – (Health24)