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Can a new technique help detect, diagnose and treat gynaecological cancers faster and more accurately?

Wellbeing of Women and the British Gynaecological Cancer Society have invested £30,000 in Dr Maria Paraskevaidi’s research to develop a faster and more accurate diagnosis and treatment of cervical and vulval cancer

Cervical cancer affects about 3,200 women in the UK each year. The NHS National Cervical Screening Programme looks for the presence of a high-risk HPV infection as well as pre-cancerous changes in the cells of the cervix, which could lead to cervical cancer.

If a woman or person with a cervix receives an abnormal test result, they may undergo a surgical procedure that involves removing a small part of the cervix. This sample is then tested under the microscope for a final diagnosis.

Meanwhile, around 1,400 people are diagnosed with vulval cancer in the UK every year. The most common treatment will be surgery to remove the tumour, although this may depend on its size and location.

The accurate diagnosis and surgical treatment of cervical and vulval cancer can be challenging.

Risks from both surgical procedures can include short-term complications, such as bleeding. And women that have been treated for cervical disease by removing the affected part of the cervix and who later go on to become pregnant may be more likely to give birth early.

There is also the risk that the tumour may not have been completely removed. In some cases, recurrence rates can be as high as 40-50%.

Dr Paraskevaidi and her team at Imperial College London are developing and using a new technique – Laser-assisted Rapid Evaporative Ionisation Mass Spectrometry (Laser-REIMS) – that they believe could help rapidly diagnose cervical and vulval cancers while in their precancerous stages.

With funding from Wellbeing of Women and the British Gynaecological Cancer Society, the team will explore how this technique, in combination with a robotic instrument, can assist in the real-time analysis of tissue for faster, more accurate diagnoses. They will also examine the role it could play in the surgical treatment of these cancers.

Dr Maria Paraskevaidi at work in a laboratory
Dr Maria Paraskevaidi

This will be the first-ever clinic-based study using this technology to assist the diagnosis and treatment of cervical and vulval cancers and precancers.

Dr Paraskevaidi, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Imperial College London, says: “From my previous research, we know that laser-REIMS is a low-cost and rapid test that can analyse cells from the cervix with the potential to improve cervical cancer screening.

"We now want to expand our understanding further and look at how this technology can help diagnose cervical and vulval precancer and cancer more accurately and how it can assist surgeons in removing all cancerous tissue, reducing the likelihood of further surgery and its associated risks."

With this funding, my team and I will be able to take our research to the next level and into the clinic to assess the impact Laser-assisted REIMS can have on patient outcomes. Dr Maria Paraskevaidi Wellbeing of Women Researcher & Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Imperial College London

Previous research by Dr Paraskevaidi had found that Laser-REIMS is able to quickly analyse cervical cell samples and accurately detect if a woman has a high-risk Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) as well as the presence of high-grade precancerous or cancerous changes in the cells.

Dr Paraskevaidi hopes to eventually expand her research to investigate if such technology can be used to aid the diagnosis and treatment of other cancers, such as endometrial. Wellbeing of Women is currently funding other research into the use of Laser-REIMS in ovarian cancer.

Further information on cervical and vulval cancers

Find out more about what cervical cancer is, its signs and symptoms and when you should visit your GP.

Read our information and advice on vulval cancer.

Our health information on gynaecological cancers

As a women’s health charity, part of what we do is improve awareness and understanding of women's reproductive and gynaecological health.