‘Smart tampon’ will help detect cervical cancer within the comfort of your own home

Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 6:06 PM CST
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MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. (KARE) – January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, and a Minnesota woman is making headlines for creating a new prototype to test for cervical cancer.

Among the array of doctor visits, a pap smear may be one of the most uncomfortable but it’s also how doctors can detect cervical cancer.

Dr. Lauren Bollinger said cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer for women worldwide, although it isn’t as common in the United States.

Bollinger said as many as 4,200 people die every year from it. Despite the risks for cancer going down after the age of 65, she recommends testing for it should continue.

However, the idea of continued testing didn’t sit well with Hayley Hoaglund.

“We were sitting around in a friend’s living room and talked about everything we hated in health care and what was just really a pain, and the first thing that came to another colleague and I’s mind was getting your pap smear done,” she said. “It can be painful, it’s invasive, and so we developed this idea of the smart tampon in order to be able to detect cervical cancer within the comfort of your own home.”

Hoaglund graduated from the University of Minnesota and then the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, the only school that requires students to take an artificial intelligence course and then figure out how to use it to solve a healthcare problem.

Although the device Hoaglund came up with is colloquially called a “smart tampon,” its function is much different.

“When it’s used as a screening tool to detect cervical cancers, so cell abnormalities that are on the cervix,” Hoagland said. “It’s not an absorbent device, so it’s not used as a regular tampon.”

The device is just a prototype and would need FDA approval before it could be made widely available.

The device would have a sensor on the top similar to how facial recognition technology works on a cell phone. The sensor would scan different databases, helping to decide if it’s necessary to see a doctor.

Hoaglund said the next step to getting the device on store shelves would be to secure funding. She said it could cost up to 50% less than a pap smear and create more equitable access to that crucial test.

“I think that it’s no secret that people with cervixes have generally been marginalized, whether it comes to clinical trials, research, innovation and development in the women’s reproductive health space, and so it’s really important to keep innovating and keep seeking solutions for people with cervixes in general because … we’re a big part of the population, and it’s extremely important to address,” Hoagland said.

Bollinger said the invention could be turned into opportunities to save more lives, something she said is worth investing money in and supporting.