This Toronto Start-Up Wants More Women to Get Screened for HPV
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This Toronto Start-Up Wants More Women to Get Screened for HPV

Eve Medical has developed a self-testing kit for STIs.

Eve Kit is a self-testing device for sexually transmitted infections including HPV. Photo courtesy Eve Medical.

Eve Kit is a self-testing device for sexually transmitted infections, including HPV. Photo courtesy Eve Medical.

Six years ago, Jessica Ching was working towards her master’s degree in industrial design at OCAD University. One day, while she and some of her female friends were chatting over coffee, the topic of Pap smears came up.

They all agreed it was uncomfortable and awkward. One of the women mentioned she’d been avoiding the test for years.

This was concerning to Ching. Even though the test is free in Ontario and potentially life-saving—it can detect abnormal cells that may lead to cervical cancer—she realized there are still barriers for some women that keep them from getting regular Pap tests and wanted to help people overcome these obstacles.

Ching set out to design something that she hoped would encourage more women to be screened: a do-it-yourself test called Eve Kit that can be ordered online and used in the comfort and privacy of your own home.

The device tests for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and human papillomavirus virus (HPV). It’s expected to be available for purchase by the end of the year.

Once women take the swab, they’ll be able to mail it to a lab for testing. Results will be available online through a patient portal that Ching’s company, Eve Medical, is creating.

The price of the kit hasn’t been finalized but will be around $85, according to Violeta Cobo, Eve Medical’s technical sales representative.

While a Pap smear every three years is covered by OHIP, HPV tests are not. They cost about $90. Pap tests can detect cell abnormalities caused by HPV but cannot detect the virus itself. If untreated, some strains of HPV can lead to cervical cancer.

Jessica Ching is the co-founder and CEO of Eve Medical. Photo courtesy Eve Medical.

Jessica Ching is the co-founder and CEO of Eve Medical. Photo courtesy Eve Medical.

“This is a convenient and private solution,” says Cobo.

“I think this is going to be very beneficial to a lot of women who feel that it’s a really uncomfortable experience, sometimes due to cultural barriers.”

It might also be helpful for women with busy schedules who can’t take time off work or who lack transportation to get to their doctor.

Dr. Joan Murphy, clinical lead of Cancer Care Ontario’s cervical screening program, says she welcomes the new technology, but it should be done in concert with healthcare providers.

“We know that there’s lots of room to get more women in Ontario into cervical cancer screening,” she says.

From 2010–2012, 64 per cent of women ages 20 to 69 were screened for cervical cancer. About 630 women are diagnosed in the province every year and 140 die from the disease.

“HPV testing, whether it be self-testing or otherwise, may present a significant opportunity to bring those women into the fold. But it’s absolutely not a slam dunk.”

Not all strains of HPV are cancer-causing, and, among women under 30, HPV is very common and often goes away on its own.

“The harm we worry about is people coming into diagnostic processes or treatments that they don’t need,” says Murphy.

“We are not against self-testing, but we are against ad hoc, frequent testing in inappropriate populations.”

It’s important that women who want to try the self-testing kit first consult with their doctor, then discuss the results, Murphy says.

Cobo agrees that involving physicians in the process is crucial.

Eve Medical’s confidential patient portal will offer an option for a woman’s results to be sent to her doctor. The company has also partnered with doctors who will be available to talk to women, including those who aren’t covered by OHIP.

“It needs to be presented with a lot of education,” Cobo says.

Through interviews, questionnaires, and focus groups, Eve Medical realized there are many women who don’t screen at all.

“Once we show that there’s an alternative for screening, and we make emphasis on the importance of regular screening to prevent not only cervical cancer but other diseases like pelvic inflammatory disease, then we think a lot of women would get more interested in being screened,” says Cobo.

The company’s ultimate goal is that Eve Kit will be subsidized by screening organizations and, ultimately, covered by OHIP.

Indeed, funding for HPV testing is something Murphy is pushing for too. She says CCO is in talks with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, which has been “very receptive” to the idea.

If funding were to be made available, she says CCO would move quickly to develop screening guidelines in six to 12 months.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that patient test results would be available via text message. The story was also updated to clarify funding goals for the company. Torontoist regrets the errors.

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