If you have been diagnosed as having a high-risk pregnancy, you may have been recommended to undergo the standard amniocentesis test. One of the most widely used tests to detect chromosomal abnormalities, amniocentesis involves taking samples from the amniotic fluid which surrounds baby in the womb. However, as it poses a small risk of a miscarriage, patients are understandably concerned about having the test done.

One alternative to amniocentesis which could prove safer for baby is non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT). So, is this type of testing really a good alternative and is it as effective as the standard testing?

What is Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing?

NIPT is a blood test which is used to assess baby’s DNA using only the mother’s blood. It is capable of testing for the most common chromosomal abnormalities, including Down’s Syndrome, Patau Syndrome and Edwards Syndrome. It can also help to detect baby’s sex, earlier than an ultrasound.

The test was introduced in 2003 and it has gone on to become a popular alternative to amniocentesis testing.

How does it detect chromosomal abnormalities?

NIPT detects chromosomal abnormalities by analysing the chromosomes within the DNA. The average person has 23 different chromosomes in every cell. However, in those with Down’s Syndrome, for example, they have an additional chromosome which is what leads to mental and physical differences.

Within the mother’s blood, there is approximately 10% to 20% of cell-free fetal DNA. It is this which is tested for chromosomal abnormalities and it comes directly from the placenta. The test can be done from 10 weeks into the pregnancy.

Is it as effective as amniocentesis?

As NIPT isn’t as invasive as amniocentesis, many patients are concerned whether or not it is as effective. The good news is, NIPT has proven to be 99% effective at detecting Down’s Syndrome and over 98% effective at detecting other common chromosomal abnormalities.

NIPT also doesn’t pose any risk of miscarriage. So, when comparing the two, NIPT does tend to outshine amniocentesis.

Can you only have NIPT if you’re classed as having a high-risk pregnancy?

You can undergo NIPT in any pregnancy, not just if you’re considered to be at high risk. However, you will only be offered the test free of charge on the NHS if you do have a high-risk pregnancy. If you still want to have the test done even though you’re considered low risk, you will need to pay for the test privately.

As NIPT is non-invasive and poses no risk to the baby, there is no harm in paying to have one privately. In fact, it could provide you with peace of mind as it can help to ensure nothing has been missed in your standard prenatal screening.

If you’d like to have NIPT to put your mind at ease, call 07835 736627 and contact SureScan today. During a consultation, you will find out everything you need to know about the test and whether or not it’s the right option for you.

smear tests

As the number of women attending smear testing has fallen to its lowest on record, experts are looking into potential solutions. Smear tests are crucial at helping to detect HPV and early signs of cervical cancer. However, a staggering number of women are still avoiding the tests due to embarrassment and the discomfort sometimes felt during the quick procedure.

One solution currently being developed is a urine test which could be just as effective as smear tests at detecting HPV. Here, we’ll look at what patients could expect from the new test.

What did the study find?

The study, led by leading gynaecological oncologist Dr Emma Crosbie from the University of Manchester, showed urine tests are just as effective as smear tests when it comes to detecting HPV.

Unlike smear tests, urine tests are non-invasive and a lot less embarrassing and painless for patients. They can be carried out at home and dropped off to the GP. It is thought if this type of testing is introduced onto the market, it could help to dramatically increase cervical cancer screening participation in younger patients.

The study involved taking urine samples from 104 women at St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester. They had each been referred to the clinic after abnormalities were detected. They were given urine tests and vaginal sample tests to carry out themselves, while a cervical swab was performed by a healthcare professional.

The samples showed that two-thirds of the women had what is referred to as high-risk HPV. That is, they tested positive for HPV-16 or HPV-18, which are thought to be the cause of the majority of cervical cancer cases.

The results of the study showed that all three tests could pick up 15 out of 18 cases. This has proven to be an exciting development that urine testing could prove to be a viable and more comfortable form of testing for cervical cancer cells.

A more sustainable solution is required

In recent years, there have been a lot of smear test campaigns, trying to encourage more women to attend their screenings. However, whilst these campaigns have temporarily helped, the results have been short-lasting.

While the majority of women do know how important these tests are, many are unable to push past the psychological issues they have about undergoing a routine smear. So, experts are now trying to look into more sustainable solutions, with the urine testing kits being just one potential option.

Patients urged to attend smear tests in the meantime

Although the new study has shown promising and exciting results, the test itself is likely to take a few years to be approved for use on the market. This means, in the meantime, patients are urged to continue attending their smear tests.

Smear testing takes just a couple of minutes and patients often find it isn’t as bad as they thought it was going to be. When you consider this simple and quick test could save your life, it really is crucial to push past that initial worry as it may not even be as bad as you think. Call us on 07835 736627 to arrange your consultation.

late stage ultrasound scans

A new study has revealed that thousands of caesarean sections could be prevented if women are given a late stage ultrasound scan.

The University of East Anglia and the Cambridge University carried out a trial, which revealed approximately 4000 C-section procedures could be potentially prevented each year. The research was largely carried out to help diagnose breech presentation, which typically results in an emergency C-section being performed.

So, how could a late stage ultrasound scan prevent unnecessary C-sections? Below, we’ll look at what the research revealed and why a late ultrasound scan could help thousands of women.

What is breech presentation?

Breech presentation is where the baby is facing the wrong way around. This means, rather than coming out head first during the delivery, breech babies will come out feet or buttocks first. This can cause a lot of potential issues for both mother and baby, in severe cases even resulting in death.

At the very least, breech births can lead to birth trauma and injuries. The trouble is, thousands of breech babies are undiagnosed. So, when the birth does arrive, an emergency C-section is required to safely deliver the baby. However, emergency C-sections also pose a lot of risks and the recovery period can be particularly painful and difficult.

The hope is, this new research will encourage more late stage ultrasound scans in order to give women an option to attempt to turn the baby prior to the birth.

Understanding the study into late stage ultrasound scans

The study involved carrying out breech scans on 3,879 women who were 36 weeks along in their pregnancy. It was discovered that 4.6% of those scanned had babies which were in breech position.

These results reveal that as well as potentially avoiding up to 4,000 unnecessary C-sections, late term scanning could also prevent up to 15,000 undiagnosed breech babies. According to experts, the scan would only cost the NHS approximately £12.90 per patient. So, it’s certainly a cost-effective way to avoid unnecessary C-sections and the risks they present.

How could it prevent an emergency C-section?

If late stage ultrasound scans can detect a baby in breech position, it gives the mother the opportunity to attempt to turn the baby before the birth. Hospitals and clinics can carry out a procedure known as ECV (External Cephalic Version).

This procedure involves placing pressure onto the abdomen in an attempt to encourage baby to turn. While it’s a quick and very simple procedure, lasting around two to five minutes, it can be painful. However, when you compare the brief pain of ECV to the potential pain and complications from a C-section, it’s definitely worthwhile! The procedure is said to work in around 50% of cases.

Although breech births are fairly uncommon, they can prove distressing and potentially harmful to both mother and baby. So, this new research showing how effective late stage screening can be is an exciting development. It is worth keeping in mind that screening within a month of the birth, rather than too close to it, will give the best opportunity for turning the baby in time.

pregnancy ultrasound scans

An exhibition in Glasgow is set to take place in order to celebrate the city’s role in the development of obstetric ultrasounds. Organisers of the event are searching for women who underwent the first ever ultrasound scans in the 1960s.

The women will be able to share their experience on camera and the event will highlight how far technology has come since its development.

Where pregnancy ultrasound scans began

It’s easy to take pregnancy ultrasounds for granted these days. Since their development, ultrasound scans have come a long way. These days, as well as the standard 2D scans, patients can also opt to undergo 3D and even 4D pregnancy scans; seeing their baby in miraculous detail.

However, back in the 1960s, pregnant women had no way of seeing their growing baby until designer, Dugald Cameron, developed the machinery. Cameron was graduating the Glasgow School of Art when he developed the Diasonograph, which was ultimately produced by Kelvin & Hughes Ltd, a Glasgow-based company. It was then used within The Queen Mother’s Hospital. Cameron worked alongside clinical obstetricians, electronics and design, and engineering experts to develop the machine.

Glasgow wasn’t just the first city within the UK to offer pregnancy ultrasound scans, it was the first in the world.

When will the event be held?

The exhibition, known as Ultrasonic Glasgow, will be held at the Glasgow School of Art (GSA) in October. This gives plenty of time for patients to come forward. The GSA is especially interested in hearing from those who took part in the first ever ultrasound scans. They are also interested in hearing from anybody who worked on the equipment in the 1960’s.

The hope is they will be able to record interviews of the first women to undergo the pregnancy ultrasound scans, highlighting their early experiences with the technology. This will show just how far ultrasounds have come and how they transformed the industry.

Women who would like to take part in the event, are asked to email the GSA at Alternatively, you could write to the GSA at The Glasgow School of Art, Communication Design Staff Office, Floor 1, Reid Building, 167 Renfrew Street, G3 6RQ.

Pregnancy ultrasound scans today

Today, ultrasound scans are carried out routinely at the beginning of the pregnancy. Traditional 2D scans remain the most popular option. They use high-frequency sound waves in order to create a 2D image of baby in the womb.

They can be used for both diagnosis and treatment and they’re considered safe as they use sound waves, rather than radiation. 3D and 4D scans are still considered safe, although experts do advise against having them done as a memento only as baby shouldn’t be exposed to more scans than they need to be. Special transducers are required to carry out these tests, which are known to be expensive.

Overall, when you look back to how ultrasound scans developed and where they are today, you can see just how far we have come. The event held by the GSA is set to provide an exciting insight into how it all started.

Call 07835 736627 to arrange a consultation and find out more about your pregnancy ultrasound options.

baby scan technology

A new, detailed scan of a baby’s heartbeat within the womb has recently been shared by researchers. The team from the King’s College London, captured the unprecedented images via MRI scans. It is hoped the new screening will help to improve the level of care provided to babies who suffer from congenital heart disease.

Understanding the technology

The technology behind the detailed images works using an MRI machine. It produces several 2D pictures of baby’s heart, taken from numerous angles. These images are then pieced together by sophisticated software.

The software adjusts the images according to the beating of baby’s heart, building up an extraordinary 3D image. This provides a clear view of any abnormalities.

Study proves successful for 11-month old Violet-Vienna

The study into the new baby scan technology has already proved invaluable for babies like now 11-month old Violet-Vienna.

During a routine 20-week ultrasound scan, Violet’s mother, Kirbi-Lea Pettitt, discovered her baby had abnormalities. After taking part in the study to test the new equipment, it was discovered her baby’s main artery from the heart was narrowed. This would have blocked the blood vessel not long after birth. There were also two holes within the heart detected.

However, detecting the issues meant that doctors were able to save baby Violet-Vienna’s life after she was born. Violet was immediately taken away after the birth and placed onto medication to keep the blood vessel open. Then, heart surgery was carried out a week later, and today the 11-month old is thriving.

Without the detailed images produced by the new software and MRI scan, baby Violet-Vienna may not have survived.

The potential benefits it could provide

The initial study carried out shows just how crucial this new baby scan technology could be for baby’s suffering with congenital heart problems. It is thought up to eight babies in 1,000 are born with congenital heart issues in the UK.

After consultant paediatric cardiologist, Professor Reza Razavi, almost lost his child when she was born with a congenital heart problem, he wanted to improve the diagnosis of the condition. It was a powerful motivator, which ultimately led to the development of the new baby scan technology.

Now, it is hoped the technology will be implemented as a routine diagnostic tool for those at high risk of the condition. The 3D images produced are remarkable, and as the studies have already shown, they are successful at pinpointing heart defects in stunning detail. This could lead to much more effective treatment being provided once baby is born. If a treatment plan is already in place, it reduces the risks and increases the chances of survival.

The technology will be easy to adopt into practices which already have MRI screening equipment. The only additional equipment required would be a computer and graphics card.

Overall, this new technology could prove a game changer in the industry. An alternative option could be to use four different ultrasound probes simultaneously, rather than just one, in order to get a clearer picture.

in-clinic cervical cancer screening

As in-clinic cervical cancer screening hits a 20-year low, experts are claiming DIY smear tests could be the answer. Giving patients the option to carry out a home-based cervical screening test, it eliminates the anxiety and fear which is said to be the leading reason patients avoid their routine smear appointments.

A pilot scheme will be introduced in north and east London, expected to take place in September. The charity, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said this home testing kit could prove to be a game changer for women.

What are the new home-based cervical cancer screening kits?

The home-based testing kits will include a vaginal swab. This will be a little longer than a cotton bud, and it will take just a few minutes to take the test. A freepost box or envelope will be supplied to send the test back.

It’s a very simple and straightforward testing kit which is so far showing great promise. The fact it can be done from the comfort of a patient’s home at their own convenience is likely to increase the number of tests carried out.

Other countries have already seen success from home sampling kits

These testing kits have already proven successful in other countries such as Denmark and Australia. More cancers have been prevented as a result of the home testing kits being introduced. So, the hope is this new pilot taking place in England, will lead to an introduction of the test within the NHS.

It is worth pointing out that the tests can be purchased online. They just aren’t available on the NHS. The GynaeCheck kit allows patients to carry out their own test at home and receive results within 10 days. However, not everyone can afford the cost of the kit, which at present is £85.

There are a number of reasons women may not want to attend their routine smear tests. Fear and anxiety do tend to be the driving motivators for missing appointments. However, for many women, the timing of the tests can also be inconvenient. Those with busy lifestyles may find it difficult to get into an appointment, so the home testing option would prove extremely beneficial.

The importance of in-clinic cervical cancer screening

Although the at-home screening kit is likely to increase cervical screening rates, it is unlikely to be introduced onto the NHS until at least 2020. So, in the meantime, it is very important that patients who cannot afford the current at-home testing kit, to attend their GP-based smear test. Alternatively, in-clinic cervical screening can be carried out within a private clinic such as SureScan.

If patients are anxious or fearful about the test, there are things which can be done to reduce these feelings. Taking somebody into the appointment with you, reading a book and trying out different positions if one proves uncomfortable, are all potential ways to reduce anxiety.

Overall, smear tests are undoubtedly uncomfortable, at least in terms of embarrassment and anxiety. However, they take just a few minutes and have the potential to save our lives. They also aren’t as bad as you might think if you’ve never attended one before. Book your smear test with SureScan today and see just how quick and painless this crucial test can be.

cervical cancer screening

A new Cervical Screening Saves Lives campaign has been launched by Public Health England. The campaign is encouraging more women to attend cervical screening tests, as recent research shows up to 83% of cervical cancer cases could have been prevented if caught earlier.

It is estimated that around 2,600 women within England are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, with a fatality rate of 690 patients. Most worryingly, is that 25% of women choose not to attend routine screenings with their GP.

What is a smear test?

A cervical smear test is used to determine whether any of the cells within the cervix are pre-cancerous. They are typically offered to patients who are 25, then they are provided every three years until the age of 49.

The test itself takes around ten minutes, with the actual procedure taking up just five minutes. A speculum coated in lubricant is inserted into the vagina, to keep the cervix open. A tiny brush will then be used to swab the cells. Some patients do experience a small scratching feeling, but it is rarely painful.

Understanding the cervical cancer screening campaign

The new Public Health England campaign provides information on how patients can make the test more comfortable, as well as reassuring those who may be fearful of the procedure. Although the test can diagnose cervical cancer, it is not actually a cancer test. It is simply looking for pre-cancerous cells which could pose a problem later on. By detecting these pre-cancerous cells, it allows health professionals to treat them before they turn into cancer.

Once women have undergone a smear test, the majority tend to feel positive about their experience. A staggering 87% of women who attend their appointments claim they are glad that they went. It only takes a few minutes and once it’s done, provided no abnormalities were found, it won’t have to be carried out for another three years.

However, despite how straightforward and painless the procedure is, a staggering number of women still put it off due to fear and anxiety.

Things can be done to reduce anxiety before a smear test

Patients who have been putting off their smear test can do things to reduce their anxiety. You could take a friend or family member into the appointment with you, different positions can be tried if any discomfort is felt, and you are also welcome to read a book while the test is being carried out if that helps.

There are self-screening kits currently being trialled in England. These kits, which allow women to carry out their own smear test, could potentially solve the issue of having to go in and experience the embarrassment and fear of a clinic setting. However, for now, patients need to ensure they attend their routine smear tests.

If you are anxious, you can choose to get cervical cancer screening done at a private clinic, such as SureScan. It can help to undergo the test in a quieter clinic setting. As a smear test only takes a few minutes and it can potentially save your life, it is definitely worth making sure you attend your appointments.

genetic testing and ultrasound pregnancy scans

New research has revealed that genetic testing can improve the diagnosis of abnormalities in baby’s detected during ultrasound pregnancy scans. Published in the Lancet, the research was carried out in a collaborative effort by the University of Birmingham, Great Ormond Street Hospital, the Wellcome Sanger Institute, and the University of Cambridge.

Below, we’ll delve into the study and its findings and what it means for the future detection of abnormalities.

Understanding the study

The study involved 610 developing babies with detected abnormalities, and a total of 1206 biological parents. Whole-exome sequencing was carried out, with DNA samples being taken from pregnancies as they were screened for conditions such as Down’s Syndrome.

Out of the 610 pregnancies, the researchers were able to identify new diagnoses of genetically known disorders in 52 of the babies. This equates to a percentage of 8.5%. What was interesting about the research, is that babies which did have genetic diagnoses were more likely to have heart defects, multi-organ issues and skeletal abnormalities. This means some ultrasound pregnancy scans could be better picked up for genetic testing.

So, the study revealed that genome sequencing can improve the diagnosis of genetic conditions alongside ultrasound technology. Now, the researchers are hoping that the results will aid NHS England to roll out technology allowing them to perform exome sequencing. The initial technology is likely to be invasive, though non-invasive technology will also hopefully be rolled out with time.

The majority of the diagnoses identified were for conditions which have a low rate of recurrence in any future pregnancies.

Why will revealing these results to parents help?

The researchers claim that revealing the results of exome sequencing alongside ultrasound scans, will help them to choose better care options. It also gives medical professionals the ability to better counsel their patients and help them identify the best course of care going forward.

The trouble with just having an ultrasound pregnancy scans is that the results aren’t overly insightful. This can lead to a lot of confusion and worry. However, with exome sequencing, the parents can be provided with the important information they need about baby’s outlook and give them a better idea of what to expect.

Should genetic testing be included as a mainstream diagnosis?

The results of this latest study show the importance of giving parents a more informed diagnosis when abnormalities are detected during an ultrasound scan. When an issue is detected, parents obviously want to know everything they can about the abnormality and what it means. However, they don’t realise that there could be many reasons for the abnormality. Exome sequencing can, therefore, provide more accurate information on what has caused the abnormality and how it impacts their developing baby. Introducing genetic testing as a mainstream diagnosis would, therefore, be extremely beneficial.

Overall, it can be worrying when you’re told an abnormality has been detected on ultrasound pregnancy scans. While genetic testing isn’t currently available as a mainstream diagnosis, this new study provides hope that it soon will be.

gender scan Sutton Coldfield

Some hospitals across Scotland have decided they will no longer reveal the baby’s gender at routine pregnancy scans. For decades, women have been able to determine whether they are having a boy or a girl at the standard 20-week scan. So, why are some hospitals choosing to stop revealing gender?

Here, we’ll look at the reasons behind the sudden change and the options women have if they still want to know the sex before baby is born.

Why are some hospitals choosing not to perform a gender scan?

The decision to stop revealing baby’s gender has been made by some hospitals due to the fear over legal action if the prediction is wrong. A total of 4 out of 14 NHS boards including Orkney, Grampian, Shetland and Forth Valley, no longer offer gender reveal.

Hospital sources revealed that this was partly down to the threat of legal action when the gender turned out to be wrong. There have also been cases where sonographers have been verbally abused when they haven’t been able to detect baby’s gender during the scan. This has led to the hospital policy being changed in the hope staff will no longer have to go through potential abuse if they can’t get a clear image of baby.

However, although it has only recently come to light, these Scottish NHS hospitals have actually avoided revealing baby’s gender for many years now. The NHS Forth Valley for example, claims its sonographers don’t routinely tell patients the sex of their baby, and that has been their policy for more than ten years now. The only time the gender would be revealed is if it was required for clinical purposes.

The trouble with early ultrasound scans is that they can’t always provide a clear picture of baby. So, it isn’t always possible to determine the sex during the routine scan.

Is withholding baby’s gender the right thing?

The media coverage surrounding the decision to avoid revealing baby’s gender has led to a lot of heated debate. Is it right to withhold baby’s gender? Perhaps what would be more beneficial, would be if patients were informed about the risks of the gender reveal being wrong. Many don’t understand that early ultrasound scans cannot always determine baby’s sex.

There has also been some coverage that revealing baby’s gender may lead to more terminations. However, this is only really an issue in countries where cultural beliefs may come into play. In the UK, gender selection isn’t as prevalent as it is in many other parts of the world. So, the decision not to reveal baby’s gender may be a little unfair for patients, but it’s certainly understandable from the hospital’s point of view.

Patients who have been refused to find out the sex of their baby do have other options. A private gender reveal scan can show you whether or not you are having a boy or a girl. The cost isn’t as expensive as you might think, and you’ll also be able to choose whether you want a 3D or 4D scan.

ovarian cancer test

Here in the UK, over 7,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year and it’s the sixth most common cancer affecting women. If a woman is diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the early stages then she has a 70% chance of survival, but unfortunately, the disease is still often detected once it has become more advanced, which is why it is often called ‘the silent killer’.

In the early stages, symptoms of the disease are often vague and are often dismissed merely as women’s problems, particularly in post-menopausal women. To mark Ovarian Cancer Month this March, here is a list of symptoms to be aware of:

  • Persistent bloating
  • Loss of appetite or feeling full quickly
  • Abdominal or pelvic pain or pain in the lower back
  • Needing to wee more frequently or more urgently

Guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to GPs is that they should offer ovarian cancer screening to women if they experience these symptoms more than 12 times in a month or continue for three weeks.

Advice for women over 50 who are experiencing symptoms similar to Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS, is to see a GP for an ovarian cancer test as it is unusual for women over the age of 50 to develop this condition for the first time.

Other possible symptoms of ovarian cancer to be aware of include:

  • Changes in bowel movements, either diarrhoea or constipation
  • Feeling very tired for no reason
  • Unexplained weight fluctuations (either weight gain or weight loss)
  • Bleeding between periods (you should always see a GP if you experience any bleeding after the menopause)
  • Pain during sex

At the moment, there is no national screening programme for ovarian cancer. At SureScan, we offer full screening for ovarian cancer including consultation for risk assessment and a combination of tests. For more advice and diagnosis, please call us on 07835 736627 or 0121 308 7774 to arrange an appointment for an ovarian cancer test.