August 3, 2007 / 3:13 AM / 12 years ago

Basic cervical cancer test may help in poor regions

An image released by the International Agency for Research on Cancer on Friday shows a color-coded map showing age-standardized incidence rates of cervical cancer. REUTERS/IARC/Handout

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A simple method to screen for cancer of the cervix could help reduce the number of cases of the disease in developing countries where it is often the most common form of cancer for women, researchers said on Thursday.

Writing in the Lancet medical journal, the researchers tracked the effectiveness of an inexpensive screening method involving acetic acid, which is a chemical compound in vinegar, and a bright halogen lamp to detect signs pointing to the development of cervical cancer.

Researchers led by Dr. Rengaswamy Sankaranarayanan of the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France, used the method to screen tens of thousands of apparently healthy women aged 30 to 59 in the Dindigul district of India for cervical cancer.

The women who got the screening method turned out to be 25 percent less likely to develop cervical cancer and 35 percent less likely to die from the disease compared with women who did not have the benefit of the screening method. The researchers reported their results after seven years of study rather than the planned 10 years because the benefit was better than expected.

According to 2002 figures cited by the researchers, cervical cancer is the most common cancer among women in many developing countries, where 85 percent of the estimated 493,000 new cases and 273,000 deaths worldwide occurred.

Cervical cancer is caused by types of a virus called human papillomaviruses, or HPV, that spread through sexual contact. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus.

The development of cervical cancer is slow and its precancerous condition is readily treatable, but only if discovered through screening. Women in many poor nations may not have access to screening. The disease is far less common in many developed countries because of routine use of Pap smears to screen for it.

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