The Household Item That's Stopping Cervical Cancer

Vinegar has dozens of uses, an one is saving women's lives. Doctors may be able to significantly reduce the rate of cervical cancer deaths in poor countries thanks to a procedure involving the common household substance.

The New York Times is highlighting the test in a feature on innovative, low-cost solutions to health problems. The procedure is known as VIA/cryo for visualization of the cervix with acetic acid (vinegar) and cryotherapy treatment. It was developed by doctors at Johns Hopkins in the 1990s, and involves brushing vinegar on a woman's cervix. The paper reports that this,

"makes precancerous spots turn white. They can then be immediately frozen off with a metal probe cooled by a tank of carbon dioxide, available from any Coca-Cola bottling plant."

The test was endorsed by the World Health Organization last year, and now it's being rolled out in several countries. Around the world more than 250,000 women die of cervical cancer every year, and most of them live in poorer areas. Cervical cancer used to be the top cancer killer of American women, but the introduction of the Pap smear dramatically reduced the death rate. Pap smears involve lab testing, which isn't available in many parts of the world, but VIA/cryo allows doctors and nurses to diagnose and treat precancerous spots in one visit. The drawback is that sometimes healthcare providers freeze spots that aren't actually cancerous, but this isn't harmful (though it can involve a burning sensation that takes two days to fade).

It's too soon to assess the impact the test is having, but early results are positive. Thailand has been particularly quick to adopt the practice, and 500,000 of the country's 8 million women ages 30 to 44 have already been screened at least once. While it's not as sophisticated as a Pap smear, the cheap and quick procedure may be key to preventing cervical cancer deaths worldwide. Of the 6,000 women included in the first trial 11 years ago, not one has developed full-blown cervical cancer.

Fighting Cervical Cancer With Vinegar and Ingenuity [NYT]

Image via Johanna Goodyear/Shutterstock.