According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization, January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. An estimated 604,000 women were diagnosed with the disease and about 342,000 died from cervical cancer worldwide. Fortunately, cervical cancer is largely preventable with proactive vaccinations and appropriate screenings. Here are 3 critical innovations in cervical cancer prevention:
- Pap smear – The pap smear is a simple cervical cell sample test first developed by George Papanicoulaou in 1916. Prior to the widespread use of pap smears, cervical cancer was one of the leading causes of cancer death for women in the United States. In collecting a sample of cells by scraping the surface of the cervix, Papanicolaou was able to place said sample under the microscope to detect any potential irregularities or malignancies. Experts recommend that women experience their first pap smear when they are 21 years old.
- HPV vaccine– Cervical cancer is typically caused by a sexually transmitted pathogen called the human papillomavirus. The most recently developed HPV vaccine (Gardasil 9) can prevent most of these cervical cancer cases if a girl or woman receives it before she is exposed to the virus. Boys and men are also given the HPV vaccine in order to reduce potential transmission. Doctors usually encourage girls and boys to receive the vaccine at 11 or 12 years old, but it is safe to receive as early as 9 years old. The Gardasil 9 form is most effective when taken in two doses during preteen years, but it is also available in three doses for patients over 14 years old.
- Callascope– The callascope is a newly emerging self-cervix image device developed in large part by Dr. Mercy Asiedu. In terms of composition, the calloscope is composed of an imaging component, camera, and inserter. The device’s design was informed by the desire to make cervical imaging more comfortable, affordable, and accessible for patients. In typical cervical imaging and examination, including the pap smear, gynecologists use a duckbill-shaped tool called a speculum to hold open the entrance to the vaginal canal. Considering that speculums have 1-3 blades, it isn’t too surprising that many women find them uncomfortable. Also, for safety reasons, speculums should only be inserted by medical professionals. According to developmental studies, participating women find the callascope more comfortable than the speculum and appreciate the convenience of self-insertion.
Thanks to the pap smear, the HPV vaccine, and the callascope, through the expansion of access to these innovations, cervical cancer will become increasingly preventable and treatable. We at LILAS encourage everyone to spread awareness about these methods and to be proactive in being regularly tested for cervical cancer. For more information, here are some pertinent resources: