Remember old stories about how your grandmother or others in prior generations had some special home remedy for dealing with a bug bite or stuffy nose or some other minor ailment? These remedies have been around for ages and provide relief without having to see a doctor.
Now, a very simple yet effective method has been discovered for detecting the presence of cervical cancer.
Here in the U.S. and other industrialized countries, a Pap smear is the procedure commonly used for monitoring for cervical cancer. What happens is a scraping of the cervix is taken by the doctor, who then sends the sample to a lab for analysis by a pathologist. This test (…done at least every 3 years) has been wildly successful in reducing the numbers of deaths from cervical cancer.
If tests come back positive, the malignant (…harmful) cells can be easily removed before they spread any farther.
But in poorer countries, it’s much harder to use the Pap smear test for detecting cervical cancer, which is why the disease remains a deadly threat for women in many areas of the world. Getting results back from a lab can take weeks, if one is available at all.
And to compound the problem, many women live in hard to reach places where it may take weeks to get results back – a very problematic situation if the test results show the patient having precancerous lesions.
One method though that’s gaining a lot of popularity in poorer countries involves a very simple, yet effective process using a common household ingredient – vinegar. Basically, a nurse will brush the acidic liquid across the cervix, which causes any precancerous cells to turn white. If any precancerous cells are there, the nurse can freeze them off using a metal probe cooled with carbon dioxide.
The procedure was developed at Johns Hopkins University in the 1990s and approved by the World Health Organization last year.
Nurses, doctors and health officials are hoping this technique can do what the Pap smear did for women in industrialized countries and that’s remove cancerous cells before they spread. Over 250,000 women die each year from the disease – 85% of which occur in developing countries.
Maikaew Panomyai, a 37-year old woman in Thailand, is one of many examples of the success of the vinegar testing approach. She has been screened twice in her 30s using the method. Although pre-cancerous cells were found, cryotherapy eliminated the bad cells, which resemble warts. These precancerous warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).
According to studies by the Alliance for Cervical Cancer Prevention, Maikaew’s risk of developing cervical cancer has dropped by 65% now that she’s able to be screened. Maikaew says the cryotherapy hurt a little, but the pain was bearable.
Dr. Bandit Chumworathayi, a gynecologist at Khon Kaen University and one of the pioneers of the screening method in Thailand, says vinegar is able to reveal the tumors because they have more DNA and therefore, more protein and less water than other tissues.
And although the process reveals more pre-cancerous tumors than a Pap smear, it also has more ‘false positives,’ or spots that turn pale but are not dangerous. This leads to some women getting unnecessary cryotherapy treatments.
Regardless of this minor negative, the vinegar/cryo approach shows great promise for preventing cervical cancer. This easy, low-cost method certainly has the potential to help women in some of the poorest, most remote places on earth.