How To: Use vinegar to diagnose cervical cancer

In developing countries, a new, inexpensive treatment allows nurses to spot pre-cancerous lesions on a woman's cervix and remove them—without needing a medical lab, and without surgery. It has huge implications for women's health, because cervical cancer kills 250,000 women every year.

In fact, before pap smears became commonplace, cervical cancer killed more American women than any other sort of cancer. But in places where the pap smear isn't practical, this new technique can help. From the New York Times:

Nurses using the new procedure, developed by experts at the Johns Hopkins medical school in the 1990s and endorsed last year by the World Health Organization, brush vinegar on a woman’s cervix. It makes precancerous spots turn white. They can then be immediately frozen off with a metal probe cooled by a tank of carbon dioxide, available from any Coca-Cola bottling plant.

... Dr. Bandit Chumworathayi, a gynecologist at Khon Kaen University who helped run the first Thai study of VIA/cryo, explains that vinegar highlights the tumors because they have more DNA, and thus more protein and less water, than other tissue.

It reveals pre-tumors with more accuracy than a typical Pap smear. But it also has more false positives — spots that turn pale but are not malignant. As a result, some women get unnecessary cryotherapy. But freezing is about 90 percent effective, and the main side effect is a burning sensation that fades in a day or two. By contrast, biopsies, the old method, can cause bleeding.

Via Robyn Lloyd


  1. And before anyone balks at the idea of this being ‘non-invasive’, when you are an old woman like I am, having another doctor, in yet another yearly exam look up your hoo-hoo, becomes ho-hum.

    1. To me, the biopsy is much more painful than anything. So this seems less painful by far. Chunks of tissue being pulled out with pincers and no local or painkillers = a damned unpleasant afternoon.

  2. That whole approach is a non-starter… it isn’t patentable, there can be no medical “conferences” to promote it, it has no profitable “off-label” uses, merely renaming vinegar as acetomaxx-6000 will not help the business plan, and worst of all it doesn’t recommend constitutive use!

    1. That’s a ridiculous comment. My dermatologist recommends using duct tape to get rid of warts, despite the same handicaps.

  3. I wish I had found out about this last week (although the Dr. probably wouldn’t have bothered)…I am still bleeding from biopsy and this sounds so much easier to deal with.

    Funny how no matter the country, there’s a Coca Cola plant somewhere at least a little accessible.

  4. I seem to recall that HPV could be easily found using vinegar, and we already knew that HPV is a good indicator of cancer risk, so this does not seem that new to me.  Not to say this is not a great thing!

  5. This also works for male genital warts which normally are very shallow and the same color as the skin they lay on.  The vinegar makes them stand out as stark white disks

    — I showed it to my doctor back in 1989 and he called me an idiot and told me the ‘effect’ was actually the vinegar irritating my skin.  Nice to feel vindicated though 20 years years later.

  6. OMG that’s brilliant! Is there anything vinegar’s not good for? Everything we need is right in front of us, how amazing…

  7. I’m not sure why this is suddenly new.  Acetic acid staining (around 5% concentration) is one of the standard techniques with colposcopy.  Even the article mentions that it has been around for twenty years!

    Yes – it’s great that the WHO finally got around to ‘endorsing’ a standard technique that has been around for twenty years … but perhaps that should be the story.  Why the heck did it take them so long to endorse something that is so straight forward ?

    What next – A headline ‘WHO endorses using plaster to set broken bones?”

    If you want to read more about the technique, just google ‘acetowhite’.

  8. Thanks for this followup article!

    FYI: VIA/Cryo is not exactly “new.” It was pioneered by Jhpiego, affiliate of Johns Hopkins University, in 1995. More info:

    The non-profit I work for, Grounds for Health, has been training doctors and nurses in the method for over six years in Latin America and Tanzania with amazing success. We focus on establishing sustainable cervical cancer prevention programs in coffee-growing countries, and have found VIA/Cryo, or what we call the Single Visit Approach, to be incredibly effective and powerful.

    @stefanjones:disqus: “Big Vinegar” … if only! We actually found Heinz to be the most effective in detecting the lesions. But the success has fallen on deaf ears — Heinz basically said, “We don’t want people to associate vinegar with cancer.” Funny now that this NYT article has been getting all this press … it could have been “Heinz Vinegar Prevents Cancer” … oh well. Here’s info on vinegar quality:

    Thanks again for the post (and my apologies for my li’l novel here).
    Justin –

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