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Polarized filter may help find cervical cancer

December 13, 2013

Orginally published Jan. 09, 2012

The same filtered light that enables sunglasses to reduce glare may improve a physician’s ability to detect early signs of cervical cancer, reducing unnecessary biopsies and surgery.

Polarized light is more focused than traditional radial light, which scatters in all directions, said Dr. Daron Ferris, director of the Gynecologic Cancer Prevention Center at Georgia Health Sciences University.

When a woman gets an abnormal Pap smear, it’s often followed by a colposcopic exam where radial light and magnification are used to view the cervix, then biopsies are performed on suspicious areas.

A National Cancer Institute-funded study is helping determine whether also taking a look through a polarized filter improves the ability to detect precancerous changes, enhancing efficacy while reducing needless biopsies and the discomfort and cost that may result.

In the study of 300 women age 18 and older, Ferris is first using the standard approach, including marking suspicious areas, then taking another look with the polarized filter to see how the findings correlate before doing a biopsy.

The approach might be most effective in young women where normal immature cell types in the cervix are more difficult to discriminate from neoplastic cells. This extremely thin skin is an easy target for infection by human papillomavirus, the primary cause of cervical cancer, Ferris said.

Just as polarized glasses help fisherman see fish swimming below the water surface, polarized light, which focuses its energy in one direction, also allows physicians to better see beneath the surface of the cervix for telltale signs of trouble. In suspicious areas, blood vessels tend to be more dilated, farther apart and more randomly distributed. “We normally look at superficial blood vessels, but this takes us to a level we have not been able to see,” said Ferris.

Reprinted with permission from the Atlanta Business Chronicle