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How vinegar could save 73,000 lives in the developing world

Published: Tuesday, June 4 2013 1:04 p.m. MDT

In this Tuesday, May 21, 2013 photo, Anjali S, a health work from Tata Memorial Hospital, briefs a group of women about cervical cancer during one of her regular visit to a slum in Mumbai, India. A simple vinegar test slashed cervical cancer death rates by one-third in a remarkable study of 150,000 women in the slums of India, where the disease is the top cancer killer of women. Experts called the outcome “amazing” and said this quick, cheap test could save tens of thousands of lives each year in developing countries by spotting early signs of cancer, allowing treatment before it’s too late.

Rafiq Maqbool, Associated Press

An inexpensive vinegar test in places where Pap smears are not available could reduce cervical cancer mortality by a third, according to a study released Sunday at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual meeting.

The method, called visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA), was tested by Dr. Surendra S. Shastri of Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai in a study that began in 1998.

"Shastri and his co-authors estimate that in India alone, the introduction of acetic acid screening could prevent 22,000 cervical cancer deaths annually," writes Matthew Herper at Forbes. "If it could be instituted across the developing world, that would save 73,000 lives."

With cervical cancer, early screening is key to effective treatment. However, many places in the world don't have the equipment or money necessary for regular screenings. In India, for example, a Pap smear costs 250 rupees, while the VIA test costs less than 50.

The test works by taking a step from the typical gynecological procedure called a coloscopy. Health workers apply a 4 percent vinegar solution directly to the suspicious areas.

"Sixty seconds after applying vinegar to the cervix using a cotton swab, precancerous lesions turn white and can be discerned from pink healthy tissue with the naked eye — something that primary health workers can easily be trained to identify with high accuracy," according to a report from ASCO.

According to Pharma Times, Shastri said they are working with government and health authorities, and implementation of the screenings throughout India could come in the next two years.

"He told reporters that the healthcare workers who carried out the test were trained up after four weeks (with a one-week refresher) had to 'pass through several barriers' to gain the trust of women and religious groups."

EMAIL: kbennion@deseretnews.com, TWITTER: @katebennion

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