The need for simple, cost-effective screening approaches for cervical cancer prevention in low-resource countries has led to the evaluation of visual screening with 3-5% acetic acid. The low reproducibility and wide variation in accuracy reflect the subjective nature of the test. Pooled sensitivity, specificity, positive and negative predictive values were 80%, 92%, 10% and 99%, respectively, for detecting cervical intraepithelial neoplasia grade 2 or worse lesions. Realistic sensitivity of a quality- assured single visual inspection with acetic acid is around 50%. A single round of visual inspection with acetic acid screening has been associated with a 25-35% reduction in cervical cancer incidence and the frequency of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia grade 2 or worse lesions in randomised-controlled trials. Despite all its limitations, implementing visual inspection with acetic acid screening in low-resource countries may provide a pragmatic approach to building up human resources and infrastructure that may facilitate the highly anticipated low-cost, rapid human papilloma virus testing in the near future.
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