‘Smart Tampon’ Uses AI to Detect Cervical Cancer

The Smart Tampon looks and feels just like a tampon, but it has a small sensitive camera that takes photos of the cervix. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

In the United States, cervical cancer kills approximately 4,000 women each year. Although doctors usually recommend a Pap smear every three years, many women go much longer without screening for the disease.

Fortunately, a pair of Johns Hopkins University graduate students recently developed an easier at-home alternative to the Pap smear – a tampon that uses artificial intelligence to scan the cervix for abnormalities.

Hayley Loaglund, co-creator of the Smart Tampon, told Minnesota News that she and her colleagues were discussing the most unpleasant aspects of health care and the first thing that came to mind was the Pap smear.

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“It can be painful, it’s invasive, and that’s why we came up with this idea of ​​the Smart Tampon to be able to detect cervical cancer in the comfort of your own home,” she said.

Hoaglund worked with fellow student Madeleine Howard to create the Smart Tampon for her artificial intelligence class with consultation from pathologists. It looks and feels just like a tampon, but has a small, very sensitive camera that takes photos of the cervix.

The camera works similarly to facial recognition technology used in some smartphones, and scans various databases to assess cervical cells.

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“It would compare your cervical cells to abnormal cervical cells and would be able to evaluate if you have any irregularities and encourage you to visit a doctor if necessary,” Hoaglund told the Optimist Daily.

Although it is called a “Smart Tampon”, the product is only used to scan the cervix and is not intended to function as a menstrual product.

“The idea is that if you can’t come to the screening, the screening can come to you,” said Tinglong Dai, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Carey School of Business.

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The product is only a prototype and would require FDA approval before it could be made widely available. Hoaglund and Howard are trying to recruit investors to help them put the Smart Tampon on the shelves.

The Smart Tampon – which could cost up to 50% less than a paper swab, according to Hoaglund – has the potential to increase comprehensive access to health care across the country. And because cervical cancer could be avoided if detected early, the product could also save thousands of lives.

“I think it’s no secret that people with a cervix in general are marginalized, whether it’s in clinical trials, research, innovation and development in the field of women’s reproductive health,” Hoaglund said. “So it’s really important to keep innovating and looking for solutions.”


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