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The New Approach to Fighting Cancer: Vinegar


What if you could detect one of the leading causes of death in women, simply by using a cooking ingredient?  That's exactly what nurses and doctors are doing in developing countries where cervical cancer is prevalent and pap smear tests are too costly and time consuming.  Using regular household vinegar, health experts are able to detect any precancerous bumps or warts and treat them before they become malignant. 

Cervical cancer is considered to be the number one killer of women in countries with low incomes.  While it was previously considered a serious problem in America, it has experienced a sharp decline due to Pap tests.  Named after the Greek doctor Georgios Papanikolaou, the Papanicolaou test, shorted to Pap test or Pap smear, is a procedure used in gynecology that screens patients and detects any premalignant or malignant cancerous cell activity, and allows doctors to effectively treat the cells. 

Although this screening test is highly effective at detecting cells at risk of becoming cancerous, for poorer countries the procedure is too costly and results take too long to come in.  This is because many of the patients in countries like Thailand live hours away from the nearest hospital, and these patients may become hard to reach one the results do come in. 

These countries are adapting a technique developed by a team at Johns Hopkins medical school in the 1990's, which has recently gained endorsement of the World Health Organization (WHO).  Doctors have discovered that brushing vinegar over a woman's cervix will cause any malignant or precancerous bumps or spots to turn white.  Once these areas have been identified, they can be frozen off.  The entire procedure from bump identification to removal can be completed in one visit, making it ideal for patients who live far away and can't make repeated visits quite so easily. 

The traditional method of freezing things off like warts and bumps has always been liquid nitrogen, but this form of cryosurgery can become very expensive.  An alternative method replaces the liquid nitrogen with carbon dioxide.  This process, known as VIA/cryo, is a form of cryosurgery that involves removing the malignant cells using a metal probe cooled by a tank of carbon dioxide, which is much cheaper and widely available.  To further expand on the potential to reach many more lower income families, health experts allowed nurses to remove the bumps themselves instead of waiting for a doctor to do it.
 
Vinegar is actually more accurate than a Pap smear when it comes to detecting cervical cancer early, but it also creates more false positives, which results in many unnecessary cryosurgeries.  With the number of HPV vaccine recipients rising and alternate techniques becoming more widespread, the world has seen important victories in the fight against this killer, and it is focused on eliminating it as much as possible.

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