Public health doctors are testing a simple procedure that could save thousands of women in developing nations from cervical cancer, the New York Times reports. The technique fends off cervical cancer by washing the cervix with vinegar to whiten lesions and make them visible under flashlight and daylight. The pre-cancerous lesions are then frozen and destroyed with liquid carbon dioxide. Physicians at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine working alongside doctors at a hospital in Thailand recently tested the procedure on 6,000 Thai women in a rural village. Of the 707 women with visible lesions, 94 percent showed no spots a year later. The procedure, done in a single visit using basic equipment, appears especially promising for women in developing countries such as Africa, Asia, and South America, home to 80% of the world’s cervical cancer cases. According to the Times, 225,000 women of the 470,000 with reported cervical cases die each year.
Women in developing regions have been particularly susceptible to cervical cancer because detection (pap smears) and lab processing remain unaffordable, according to the United Press International. In Thailand, despite nearly twenty years of pap smear testing, cervical cancer mortality rates remain high because health care systems are ill-equipped to provide women with adequate testing and care. With this latest procedure, only a $10 speculum, vinegar, and cotton balls are needed. However, researchers warn that without microscopic examinations to determine whether lesions are benign, just an inflammation, or a blocked gland, the procedure runs the risk of “over treating” women. Nonetheless, over treatment has no additional health risks and contributes very little to the general cost of the procedure. Johns Hopkins researcher Dr. Paul Blumenthal, who has clinics in Thailand and Ghana, told the New York Times, “we aim for the best intervention, not the best diagnosis.”