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A new way to screen poor women for cervical cancer was introduced this month in El Salvador, using a test that was originally developed in China.

Cervical cancer was once the leading cancer killer of women in the United States, but deaths have been dramatically reduced in the last 50 years as a result of pap smears. But those must be stained and read under a microscope by a trained cytologist, which makes them expensive and unwieldy in poor countries, where cervical cancer still kills more than 250,000 women a year.

Some countries, like Thailand, screen women by shining a light on the cervix and painting it with vinegar, which reveals precancerous lesions that can then be burned off with liquid nitrogen or carbon dioxide. (Above, community health workers in Thailand.)

The new test, called careHPV and made by Qiagen, a Dutch company, is a swab test for the DNA of the papillomaviruses that cause cancer. In a study published in The Lancet Oncology, it was more than twice as sensitive as the vinegar test. The test worked even when women inserted the swabs themselves, which can be done at home and so is easier and faster than having them go to a clinic for visual inspections.

Dr. Miriam Cremer, the founder of Basic Health International, which oversees the new project, said she hopes to screen 30,000 Salvadoran women for cervical cancer in two years and produce a model for expanding screening to millions.


26 September 2012

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