April 05, 2020

Pap smear computer checks may not be worth extra cost

CHICAGO — A computer system for double-checking Pap smears was no better than humans with microscopes at finding possible early signs of cervical cancer in a new study, and the automation costs far more, researchers say.

The technology might be worth the cost in laboratories that process a higher proportion of abnormal Pap smears or that employ less accurate technicians than the one in the study, researchers said.

The study was conducted at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, which does medical research and education for the Army, Navy and Air Force.

Researchers at the institute said a computer system called PAPNET found only six slides containing unusual cells among 5,478 Pap smears that had been judged normal in 1994 and 1995 by technicians using a microscope. The Pap tests were done on military women and dependents.

A panel of experts who then studied the six slides found none of the cells to be even pre-cancerous.

The costs per slide was about $3 when examined by a technician and $9.38 using PAPNET.

“It is difficult to conclude on the basis of our results that there is any clinical value to PAPNET-assisted rescreening,” said the researchers, led by Dr. Timothy J. O’Leary, director of cellular pathology at the institute.

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