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Health research

A vinegar test reduces cervical cancer death rates in developing countries


 This study tried a test that costs very little and can be done by local people with just two weeks of training and no fancy lab equipment. They swab the cervix with diluted vinegar, which can make abnormal cells briefly change color.

This low-tech visual exam cut the cervical cancer death rate by 31 percent, the study found. It could prevent 22,000 deaths in India and 72,600 worldwide each year, researchers estimate.

Cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among women in India and in many parts of the developing world.

The study involved women aged 35 to 64 with no previous history of cancer. They were randomly assigned to either an education program to teach women how to recognize symptoms of cervical cancer or a screening program in which a vinegar solution is applied to the cervix, which can make pre-cancerous tissues turn white and visible to the naked eye after only a minute.

The screening group got four rounds of this vinegar treatment and visual inspection plus cancer education every two years. All of the women in the study were offered treatment for their cervical cancers.

Cost is an issue, too. One vinegar screening costs less than $1 per patient, while the use of Pap or another test that screens for human papillomavirus would cost about $15 per test.

Screening helped lower mortality by allowing precancerous lesions to be removed before they became cancerous, and by catching existing cancer at earlier stages. In contrast, the women who developed cervical cancer in the no-screen group often weren’t diagnosed until their disease was symptomatic and advanced, when the prognosis is poorer.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health and an Indian nonprofit group, Women’s Cancer Initiative, helped fund the study.

Of interest