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A better Pap smear for cervical cancer.

Since the late 1940s, when the Pap smear was introduced, deaths from cervical cancer have decreased by more than 70 percent. Yet the experts estimate that the technique may miss as many as 25 percent of cervical abnormalities that could lead to cancer if untreated.

In June the FDA approved ThinPrep, manufactured by Cytyc Corporation, as a replacement for the conventional Pap smear. ThinPrep improves cancer detection by making the cell samples easier to see. It does so by filtering out such impurities as blood and mucus and increasing the amount of pure sample left for the technician to examine. With the standard Pap smear technique, the doctor collects cervical cells on a swab, which is then discarded after smearing the cells on a microscope slide. Thus, up to 80 percent of the cells collected on the swab are thrown away. In addition, impurities obscure up to 40 percent of the slides.

After collecting the cells as before, the doctor rinses the swab in a vial of preservation fluid, which is sent to the lab, where impurities are filtered out and the cells applied to a slide in a thin, even layer - and extra cells are preserved for follow-up testing, if needed. With a more accurate evaluation of the Pap test, false negatives are reduced, giving greater assurance to the patient that a negative test is really negative.

ThinPrep is not the only new product on the market for improving the accuracy of the Pap test. Last November, the FDA gave approval to PAP-NET, the cervical cancer test system of Neuromedical Systems, which is being used in many U.S. clinics. Whether ThinPrep is superior to PAP-NET is not known, but with one or the other replacing the old method, women can be grateful for the improved chances of detecting cervical cancer at an early stage, when almost all cases are curable.
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Author:Brown, Edwin W.
Publication:Medical Update
Date:Sep 1, 1996
Words:312
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