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New Technology Makes Pap Testing More Accurate

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RALEIGH, N.C. — It is routine for more than 50 million American women. Pap smears are the best weapon against cervical cancer and new techonology is making them more accurate.

"It's one of the best cancer screening tests that's ever been developed," pathologist Dr. Keith Nance said.

However, pap smears are not foolproof. There are false positives and even more dangerous -- false negatives -- when abnormal cells are missed.

"It's even felt that even the best humans will miss 5 percent to 10 percent of abnormal cells," Nance said.

FocalPoint, a computer-assisted Pap screening system at Rex Hospital, is making Pap smears more accurate. Technicians process the Pap smear and put it onto a slide and into the computer.

Nance said it is extremely accurate.

"It could actually screen the pap smears by itself. We just can't get below that," Nance said.

Rex Hospital uses FocalPoint as a prescreener to red flag what is normal and what is not. The slide is still examined by a cytotechnologist. Between the computer and the human eye, many stressful false positives are eliminated. Officials hope to eliminate false negative readings as well.

"We hope combining the machine with the human, hopefully, we'll mist less than one percent of abnormal cells," Nance said.

Pathologists expect the technology will catch on in other labs despite the fact that the equipment is more expensive.