Breakthrough research conducted by experts at Imperial College London has found that a knife – known as the iKnife – can diagnose womb cancer within seconds. The revolutionary surgical tool allows prospective cancer patients to bypass painful biopsies, freeing thousands from the stress of waiting weeks for results.
Endometrial cancer is the fourth most common cancer in British women, affecting around 9,000 women and people with wombs a year. The most flagged symptom of the disease is postmenopausal bleeding, which can occur for many reasons and is one of many uncomfortable (and often unspoken) realities of ‘the change.’
Those experiencing postmenopausal bleeding are usually subjected to a two-week referral by their GP, followed by a further two-week wait for results. Of those suspected to have the disease, only 10% are actually found to have it after a biopsy, meaning people often endure long waits and invasive surgeries before finding out their results.
How does the iKnife work?
The iKnife uses electrical currents to detect cancerous tissue by analysing the smoke emitted from vapourised biopsy tissue. It’s been successfully used to diagnose breast and brain cancers for a while. Now studies have found it to be “89% effective” in accurately diagnosing tumours in the womb, potentially saving a lot of heartache for the 90% of women and people with wombs who are found to be cancer-free after undergoing much more invasive tests.
Researchers have said its efficacy was examined using tissue samples from 150 women with suspected womb cancer and comparing results to current diagnostic methods. More widespread studies are planned to bolster these recent findings and eventually pave the way for the iKnife to become the go-to diagnostic tool for endometrial cancers. This would be a relief for patients and healthcare workers alike, many of whom are struggling under an overwhelmed NHS system.
The Eve Appeal gynaecological cancer charity funded the latest research. Their Chief Executive, Athena Lamnisos, said to The Guardian that this technology has “the potential to create a step change in faster diagnoses” and ease the minds of the many people referred for womb cancer biopsies and later given the all-clear.
What does this research mean for women?
Professor Sadaf Ghaem-Maghami, the lead researcher on the study, said “With [the iKnife’s] high diagnostic accuracy… one could immediately reassure the person of the very low likelihood of having cancer if the result is negative and expedite further tests and scans and treatment for people whose biopsies indicate presence of cancer. This could happen whilst awaiting confirmation from standard pathology, which can take up to two weeks.”
Research like this is vital, as it sets a precedent for more women-focused investigations. As it stands, women experience poorer outcomes in many areas of healthcare compared to their male counterparts, who have centuries of data backing up their treatment. Successful studies like this one will hopefully help minimise that gap.
If you are concerned about your health, it’s always recommended to book an appointment with your GP to discuss diagnosis and treatment. You can find your local GP here.