Illuminating Cervical Cancer for better detection

July 20, 2010 3:25:01 PM PDT
It's a beam of light that can tell a woman if she has cervical cancer within a minute. Doctors say a new tool could boost the cure rate for the nearly half a million women diagnosed every year.

"Gabriel has brought so much happiness to our family," said his mother, Gail Soares. She named the 20-month-old after the archangel Gabriel.

Yet, the news doctors delivered crushed her new mother glow.

Soares was diagnosed with cervical cancer.

"All of a sudden that crashes when you go to your first doctor's appointment, and they tell you you have abnormal cells," she said.

Cervical cancer is usually a slow-growing cancer that may not have symptoms, but can be found with regular Pap tests. The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a major risk factor for development of cervical cancer.

More than 11,000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer last year alone, with more than 4,000 deaths.

Doctors say the Light Touch machine could curb those numbers. It detects possible cancer cells by analyzing light reflected from the cervix and provides results on the spot.

The Light Touch machine has just completed the third and final phase of clinical trials.

While typical Pap smear tests take two to three weeks in a lab, the Light Touch takes about one minute.

"Once we screen the patient, we can see the same image?as on the monitor," said Dr. Nahida Chakhtoura, an Assistant Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology at University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

Previous studies have shown that Light Touch could reduce the number of unnecessary follow-up procedures due to false-positive Pap tests by up to 55 percent, which translates to a potential $181 million per-year savings to U.S. health care system.

Soares believes Light Touch can encourage woman to get screened for cervical cancer.

"If you could find out right away, without all that uncomfortableness, I think more women would go out and get that test," she said.

To save her life, Soares gave birth to Gabriel early, and then had a hysterectomy.

"You know, if I never found out I was pregnant, then I would've never found out I had the cancer, and he wouldn't be here right now," said Soares.

Soares is now in remission.

Once you beat cancer, you're always vigilant. Good thing Soares has her little angel around to keep her focused.

Online: Light Touch