New Delhi, Dec. 23: An Indian government laboratory has launched a new screening tool for early detection of cervical cancer, a technology that could be made available across the country unlike traditional cancer-detection methods that require sophisticated laboratories.
The tool called a magnivisualiser, developed by scientists at the Institute of Cytology and Preventive Oncology (ICPO) in Noida, can be used by a trained nurse or a paramedic to spot early pre-cancerous lesions in the cervix, the mouth of the uterus.
Cervical cancer is one of the most common malignancies among women in India and is detected in most women in the late stages of the cancer because the early pre-cancerous stages do not cause significant symptoms. A national cancer registry maintained by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) estimates that about 132,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year and this malignancy causes about 74,000 deaths every year.
Although cytology — the examination of cells from the cervix extracted through pap smears — has long dominated screening, it requires laboratory infrastructure and trained technicians and — in the public health system — is available only in medical colleges and regional cancer centres.
The magnivisualiser uses a source of light to illuminate the cervix after it has been exposed with a vaginal speculum. A nurse or a paramedic has to apply a bit of acetic acid on the cervix and visually inspect it under magnification and look for well-defined, sharp pre-cancerous lesions.
“This is an easy-to-use technology we’re hoping will make a big difference to many women,” said Vishwa Mohan Katoch, director-general of the ICMR which runs the ICPO. Over the past five years, the ICMR has field tested the magnivisualiser in government clinics in Calcutta, Delhi and Jaipur.
The ICPO says the magnivisualiser is expected to cost only Rs 10,000 in contrast to imported comparable visual inspection equipment that costs between Rs 500,000 to Rs 800,000.
Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad who launched the tool today said the government hopes to use it to provide screening services for cervical cancer initially through all district hospitals and about 4,000 sub-district hospitals.
While the tool has the potential to be used even in primary health centres, Azad said the lack of trained human resources at the PHC level would limit its spread there. ICPO scientists say nurses or paramedic workers would need about three months of training to be able to detect precancerous lesions using the magnivisualiser.