Vinegar cancer test saves lives
Published 02/06/2013 | 13:38
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.
Doctors reported the results at a cancer conference in Chicago. 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.
Usha Devi, one of the women in the study, says it saved her life. "Many women refused to get screened. Some of them died of cancer later," Ms Devi said. "Now I feel everyone should get tested. I got my life back because of these tests."
Pap smears and tests for HPV, a virus that causes most cervical cancers, have slashed cases and deaths in the United States and the UK. But poor countries can't afford those screening tools.
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 colour. This low-tech visual exam cut the cervical cancer death rate by 31%, the study found. It could prevent 22,000 deaths in India and 72,600 worldwide each year, researchers estimate.
"That's amazing. That's remarkable. It's a very exciting result," said Dr Ted Trimble of the National Cancer Institute in the US, the main sponsor of the study.
The story of research participant Usha Devi is not an unusual one. Despite having given birth to four children, she had never had a gynecological exam. She had been bleeding heavily for several years, hoping patience and prayers would fix things.
"Everyone said it would go away, and every time I thought about going to the doctor there was either no money or something else would come up," she said, sitting in a tiny room that serves as bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and living room for her entire family.
One day she found a card from health workers trying to convince women to join the study. Ms Devi is in her late 40s and like many poor Indians doesn't know her date of birth. She learned she had advanced cervical cancer. The study paid for surgery to remove her uterus and cervix.
The research effort was led by Dr Surendra Shastri of Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai. India has nearly one-third of the world's cases of cervical cancer - more than 140,000 each year.