Real Talk Blog

What is Self-Collect for Cervical Cancer?

Key Takeaways:

  • Self-collect refers to the ability to collect one’s own sample to be analyzed for certain diseases and abnormalities.
  • Self-collection for cervical cancer is a critical strategy to increase screening as part of the the World Health Organization’s global initiative to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health threat, and it’s already in motion in other countries and in clinical trials in the US. 
  • Self-collect reduces barriers to screening such as access to care and fear or discomfort of the speculum exam.
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At Teal Health, we’re developing an at-home self-collection option – using the Teal WandTM – for cervical cancer screening. While this may sound like a mouthful, it’s an important concept to understand as we predict self-collect will become increasingly available within the medical field. Let’s take a look at exactly what self-collect means, and how it is already being used both in the US and globally.

In short, self-collect refers to the ability to collect one’s own sample to be analyzed for certain diseases and infections. To put that into context for cervical cancer screening, consider the current process. In the US today, getting screened for cervical cancer includes going to your medical provider for a pelvic exam. You first undress, put a robe on, and lay with your feet in stirrups. Your provider then accesses your cervix by using a speculum to hold the vaginal walls open. Next, they insert a brush and collect a sample from your cervix. With self-collection, the most uncomfortable aspects of the test — going to a doctor’s office and use of the speculum — are no longer needed.

Here’s how that same exam will look with Teal Health’s self-collect device, the Teal Wand*: Your doctor or a Teal provider will prescribe your test (based on the most up-to-date cervical cancer screening guidelines), and then a kit with the Teal Wand will arrive in the mail. The Wand will help you self-collect a sample for primary HPV testing, the most sensitive test for HPV, the virus which causes almost all cervical cancer cases. To screen, you’ll insert the Teal Wand, which resembles a long tampon, into your vagina and collect your sample by extending the soft sponge towards your vagina and cervical area. You’ll seal up the sponge in an empty vial, send it to the lab, and then be notified once your results are available to view in your Teal account. The test takes less than five minutes and can be done in your own home — no stirrups, no speculum in sight.

Self-collect isn’t as uncommon as you may think

If you’re wondering if self-collect is currently available in healthcare, look no further than the pandemic. We became all too familiar with swabbing our noses and throats to test for the COVID-19 virus. Other self-collection devices may use a lancet and finger prick to obtain a small blood sample. Still others may require patients to send in a stool sample (like the Cologuard). Any kit you obtain to test at home: your hormones, ancestry, food sensitivities, allergies, STIs, or fertility, is a form of self-collect. It’s important to note, however, that not all of these self-collect devices are rigorously tested and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and therefore not used for medical decision-making, so be sure to check before you rely on one for important test results. Teal Health’s Teal Wand is currently in clinical trials to support FDA submission and approval.

Self-collect as part of the global strategy to eliminate cervical cancer

In some countries, self-collection for cervical cancer is already a reality, not to mention a critical strategy toward the World Health Organization’s global initiative to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health threat. This initiative was the first time all Member States adopted a resolution to eliminate a disease with long term health consequences (like cancer), and demonstrates the global community’s acknowledgment that with the right strategies — like self-collect — we can eliminate cervical cancer as a public health concern. Australia has vowed to become the first country in the world to eliminate cervical cancer, by 2035. Canada and England have pledged to do the same by 2040. Self-collection is a critical component of these countries’ strategies for doing so.

The benefits of self-collect

The benefits of self-collection for cervical cancer are that it reduces barriers to screening such as access to care and fear or discomfort of the speculum exam.

Another barrier to screening is lack of information, which is why it’s so important to spread the word with Teal Health. This Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, we’re donating up to 1,000 free screenings for every person who follows Teal Health’s Instagram account and shares this campaign message. Help us spread the word so women and people with a cervix can reap the benefits of self-collect, and together, we can eliminate cervical cancer as a public health concern in the US.

*The Teal Health Cervical Cancer Screening device is an Investigational Device and is not yet approved by the US FDA.

Meghna Mukherjee, PhD
Researcher

Meghna Mukherjee has a PhD in medical sociology, with a focus on women’s health and health inequities. She has studied reproduction, fertility, and genetic health technologies, with particular interest in understanding how medicalized spaces and interactions around technologies reinforce social hierarchies.

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