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Low-tech vinegar cancer test saves lives among India's rural poor

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 3rd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Every household has it, and it's being used to save lives among India's poor who have no access to medicine and doctors. Vinegar, used to detect cervical cancer, is a technique that's catching on among the world's dispossessed. The implications, that a simple household ingredient - and not an expensive doctor-approved medicine, is widespread and far-reaching.   


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic online) - The test reduced cervical cancer death rates by one-third in a study of 150,000 women in the slums of India, where the disease is the top cancer killer of women. Doctors reported the results Sunday at a cancer conference in Chicago.

Calling the outcome "amazing," officials say that this cheap test could save tens of thousands of lives each year in developing countries by spotting early signs of cancer.

"Women refused to get screened. Some of them died of cancer later," research participant Usha Devi says. "Now I feel everyone should get tested. I got my life back because of these tests."

While pap smears and tests for HPV, a virus that causes most cervical cancers, have reduced cases and deaths in the United States, developing countries can\'t afford these screening tools.

The vinegar test costs very little and can be done by local people with just two weeks of training and no fancy lab equipment. Swabbing the cervix with diluted vinegar, the technique makes abnormal cells to briefly change color. This low-tech visual exam cut the cervical cancer death rate by 31 percent, the study found.

The test 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," Dr. Ted Trimble of the National Cancer Institute in the U.S., the main sponsor of the study declared.

Research participant Usha Devi, despite having given birth to four children, 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. One day she found a card from health workers trying to convince women to join the study. Devi is in her late 40s and like many poor Indians, doesn\'t know her date of birth.

Due to the study, she found 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. "It\'s just not possible to provide Pap smear screening in developing countries. We don\'t have that kind of money\' or the staff or equipment, so a simpler method had to be found," Shastri said.

Researchers enrolled 75,360 women to be screened every two years with the vinegar test. Another 76,178 women were chosen for a control, or comparison group that just got cancer education at the start of the study and vouchers for a free Pap test - if they could get to the hospital to have one.

Women in either group found to have cancer were offered free treatment at the hospital.



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