A new computerised test for cervical cancer detects more abnormalities than conventional smears, say experts.
Smears can show up cancerous cells
Currently in England, cells taken from the cervix are spread on a slide and studied under a microscope.
But experience from Australia shows a computerised reading system is better at spotting suspect cancers, the British Medical Journal reports.
An official of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes said the technology was being evaluated.
The ThinPrep Imager (TPI) detected 1.3 more cases of frankly nasty or so-called "high-grade" cervical abnormalities per 1,000 women screened than the conventional manual slide reading, Dr Elizabeth Davey and colleagues from Sydney University found.
And fewer slides were found to be unsatisfactory using TPI - 1.78% compared to 3.09% with conventional reading.
This could mean that if the ThinPrep Imager were introduced, fewer women might be recalled for repeat smears than currently occurs - say the researchers.
Also, according to the study findings, introducing the ThinPrep Imager would increase detection from 7.7 to 9.0 cases per 1,000 women screened.
TPI also increased detection of less obvious "low-grade" cell lesions.
This could result in more women being identified for further testing.
But the researchers argue that this increased detection of abnormalities by TPI might allow longer intervals between screening.
In England, all women between the ages of 25 and 64 are eligible for a free cervical screening test every three to five years.
Richard Winder, Deputy Director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes, said: "The ThinPrep Imager (TPI) and other imaging technologies are currently under evaluation and are being assessed for use in the NHS Cervical Screening Programme."
The NHS Cancer Screening Programmes have already introduced a new way of preparing cervical samples for examination in the laboratory, which is called liquid-based cytology (LBC).
Conventional smears are made by transferring material, taken from the cervix by a wooden collection instrument, directly onto a glass slide.
LBC slides are made by rinsing a brush collection instrument in liquid to produce a suspension, which is processed in a laboratory to produce a single layer of cells.
By August 2006, Liquid-based cytology (LBC) had been introduced at over half of laboratories responsible for analysing cervical screening samples. National coverage is on track to be completed by 2008.