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 yesterday 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.
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," 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. 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 test cut the cervical cancer death rate by 31 per cent, the study found. It could prevent 22,000 deaths in India and 72,600 worldwide each year, researchers estimate.
"That's amazing ... 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.
Health officials in the state of Maharashtra, where the study was conducted, plan to train primary health care workers to provide the vinegar screening to all women aged 35 to 64. Those who performed the test screenings were local women with at least a 10th-grade education and good communication skills.
Researchers are also working with national health officials to make the screening available throughout the country.
The Indian government also plans to reach out to other poorer countries to share the results and offer training resources.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse