February 21, 2012

‘Acid test’ for cervical cancer

An inexpensive, low-tech test for cervical cancer may be a good option for screening for the disease among HIV-infected women in developing countries.


Women infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) constitute one of the populations at highest risk for human papillomavirus-induced cervical cancer. While HIV-infected women in developing countries, such as India, are living longer thanks to antiretroviral therapy, their risk of invasive cervical cancer remains high due to lack of access to affordable and accurate cervical cancer screening and prevention services.

Visual inspection of the cervix after application of dilute acetic acid (household vinegar), or VIA, is being studied as a low-tech, low-cost alternative to the traditional screening method for cervical cancer: the Pap smear (or cervical cytology). Vikrant Sahasrabuddhe, M.D., Dr.P.H., and colleagues compared the accuracy of cervical cytology with VIA for detection of cervical precancerous changes in 303 HIV-infected women in Pune, India.

In the Jan. 1 International Journal of Cancer, they report that VIA performed better than cytology in this setting, suggesting that VIA, which is easy and inexpensive, can be a good alternative or adjunct screening test for HIV-infected women.

The research was supported by grants from the National Cancer Institute, the National Institutes of Health’s Fogarty International Center and the Indian Council of Medical Research.