Humble vinegar, it turns out, is a life-saver.
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.
The test costs very little and can be done by anyone with just two weeks of training and no fancy lab equipment. Health workers 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, led by Dr Surendra Shastri of Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, found. It could prevent 22,000 deaths in India and 72,600 worldwide each year, researchers estimate.Doctors reported the results on Sunday 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.
Pap smears and tests for HPV, a virus that causes most cervical cancers, are common in developed world.
“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.
"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.
India has nearly one-third of the world's cases of cervical cancer -- more than 140,000 each year.
Starting in 1998, researchers enrolled 75,360 women to be screened every two years with the vinegar test.
Another 76,178 women were chosen for a control group that just got cancer education at the start of the study and vouchers for a free Pap test - if they could get one. Women in either group found to have cancer were offered free treatment.The quality of screening by health workers was comparable to that of an expert gynaecologist, researchers reported.
Officials are making plans to expand the testing to a wider population.