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Last Updated: Saturday, 29 October 2005, 22:59 GMT 23:59 UK
Making smear tests more bearable
By Jane Elliott
BBC News health reporter

Maja Kecman
Maja's design won her a college award
Each year, hundreds of thousands of women eligible for a smear test miss their screening appointment.

Many find the test - proved to have saved thousands of lives - embarrassing and painful.

Now an arts graduate thinks she might have the answer - a specially developed home smear test which would allow women to do their own checks.

Maja Kecman said she hoped her 'Insight' kit would encourage more women to get tested and thereby reduce the number that present with advanced cancers.

Alternative

She added that the test could also reduce NHS overheads by providing an alternative to visiting a nurse or GP.

Medics have given the test a cautious response, but say they would be delighted if it proved to be an effective alternative to the current testing system.

It will definitely encourage more women to have tests
Maja Kecman

Maja, a graduate of the Royal College of Arts in Industrial Design Engineering, said she had wanted to design something to benefit other women.

"Many women say they do not want smear tests. I think this will encourage more screening and lead to less cancers."

Survey

Maja interviewed nearly 200 women to ask them about their smears, and whether they would use a home kit. She also had a focus group that she asked more in-depth questions.

"I asked them why they did not like to attend and what it was about the smear that they found so uncomfortable and what they disliked. I tried to gauge whether they might like to do it themselves."

She said that 70% of those she quizzed said they would definitely do a home smear, and that gave her the confidence to go ahead and redesign the equipment.

"I spoke to doctors and nurses and looked at medical training videos to find out the exact requirements and I came up with a tight brief.

The design model
Insight: home use smear test

"You need to get the right cells at the right part of the cervix."

The design she came up with has a light and mirror to enable the user to ensure they get the precise spot when taking the cell sample.

"It also involves instructions for the patient for use and lots of photos to show them what the cervix looks like.

"Once you know what it looks like it is easy to locate."

Maja said she is currently patenting her design and that several manufacturers had expressed an interest in producing it.

Experts

Dr Martin Young, a consultant at the Royal Free Hospital, near London, who Maja contacted as part of her research, said: "I think it looks very impressive. It has been beautifully designed and put together, but how useful it is going to be in clinical practise remains to be seen.

"I feel that cervical smears are best done by professionals."

Julietta Patnick, director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes, said she was interested in seeing and trialling devices like this if they increase uptake.

"We would have to try it. It would have to go into a trial if we thought it was a runner.

"We are always looking into new ideas. We would be interested in anything that would improve things."

She said that she had not seen Maja's device, but said it was pertinent that cells are taken from a precise location in the cervix. She said that if this was not the case that the cell samples were worthless.




SEE ALSO:
Figures show better smear testing
30 Jul 04 |  Scotland
'Failed' smears cancer warning
04 Aug 03 |  Health
Guidance on smear frequency
02 Jul 03 |  Health
Smear 'best cancer test'
03 Apr 03 |  Health
New smear test delayed
27 Mar 02 |  Health


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