Vinegar used for pap smears to save lives
Pap smears have significantly reduced the number of cases of cervical cancer by allowing early detection and treatment. However, in developing countries Pap smears aren't always an option. A clever test using the acetic acid found in vinegar is aiding in saving thousands of lives in countries such as Indonesia and India.
For many of us, simple life-saving healthcare is highly accessible. There are countless clinics and general practitioners often no further than a couple of hundred meters from our doorstep. They’re just an appointment away.
For women in Singapore, cervical cancer, if detected early, can be cured. However, in developing countries Pap smears can be inaccessible and too expensive for many. Thankfully for women less fortunate that we are here in Singapore, there is a new hero. And its cheap and easily available. Its the humble household staple – vinegar.
You read right, vinegar is being used in neighboring countries like Indonesia and India to detect precancerous lesions that can often lead to cervical cancer. So women less fortunate than us can have access to life saving treatment too.
Due to the lack of knowledge and technology, cervical cancer is left undiscovered and untreated allowing 70 per cent of cases to reach an advanced stage before seeking treatment. By which point, it is too late to stop the disease.
So if you haven’t had your regular pap smear yet, book it now. Women less fortunate have to resort more ingenious means to save themselves than we do. So no excuses. Pick up the phone and keep reading about what happens to women for whom this test is too expensive.
In Jakarta, Indonesia, midwife, Tiurma Sianturi works detecting and treating HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) cases that can lead to cervical cancer with the most basic of items. These include diluted cooking vinegar, cotton swabs, a bed and a lamp. You may be surprised by the benefits of vinegar and how it can prevent HPV.
The process is simple; Miss Sianturi swabs the cervix with vinegar and shortly after, any pre-cancerous lesions will turn white and become visible to the naked eye. She can then immediately remove the lesions using what is known as cryotherapy, which involves a metal probe cooled by a tank of carbon dioxide.
This simple procedure of using vinegar as a “pap smear” alternative has helped to save over 70, 000 lives in developing countries.
One might ask then, why resort to this somewhat primitive procedure when Pap smears were introduced about a 100 years ago? In developing countries like Indonesia and India, not only are Pap smears costly, they also come with a stigma attached to them rendering many woman fearful and reluctant to seek out treatment.
Despite being endorsed by the World Health Organisation, the vinegar test is not something one should be trying at home. Doctors and nurses in developing countries who utilise the vinegar test have been trained to spot potential precancerous lesions and remove them, in turn preventing and lowering the possibility of cervical cancer in many women. Results may be inaccurate to the untrained eye and could bring about unnecessary worry.
Women aged 25-69 are advised to go for Pap smears every two to three years. Going for regular Pap smears lowers your chance of getting cervical cancer as you are kept up to date on what’s happening with your cells, so to speak.
If the results from your Pap smear come back abnormal, your doctor may wish to perform a colposcopy followed by a biopsy for further testing. An abnormal result, as upsetting as it sounds, does not automatically mean you have cancer. The colposcopy and biopsy allow your doctor to have a more detailed look at your cells and determine the reasons for the abnormal test result.
A colposcopy is the procedure whereby your doctor uses a surgical instrument to examine the vagina and cervix in detail. If he or she feels that there are abnormalities in the cells they will then perform a biopsy. This is the process of removing a sample of the cells for further testing. The entire process should take about 20 to 30 minutes.
Other than experiencing a small amount of discomfort the procedure is pretty much painless. If you experience any pain be sure to alert your doctor or nurse immediately.
Pap smears are available at polyclinics for a subsidised rate under the CervicalScreen Singapore (CSS) programme. The subsidised rates are SGD $15 for Singaporeans and SGD $22.50 for Permanent Residents.
Here are a list of polyclinics that offer Pap smear tests: