Acetic acid visualization of the cervix to detect cervical dysplasia

Obstet Gynecol. 1993 Feb;81(2):293-5.


Objective: To determine whether acetic acid visualization of the cervix can identify cervical dysplasia and improve detection of lesions missed by Papanicolaou test screening.

Methods: During a 2-year period, patients attending family planning clinics for regular gynecologic examinations had acetic acid applied to the cervix, followed by gross visualization without magnification. Patients with suspicious acetowhite lesions and normal Papanicolaou tests were referred for colposcopic evaluation. Findings from these examinations and corresponding biopsy results were analyzed retrospectively.

Results: Eighty-five women were referred for colposcopy because of abnormal acetowhite areas on the cervix. Thirteen patients (15%) had cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) (nine CIN I, four CIN II), 22 (26%) had koilocytosis, and 16 (19%) had benign histologic findings. In total, 51 patients had suspicious lesions at colposcopy for which biopsies were performed, and 34 (40%) had normal colposcopic examinations.

Conclusions: Acetic acid visualization of the cervix can detect dysplasia otherwise missed by Papanicolaou test screening. However, further refinements in technique are required to decrease false-positive findings and unnecessary referrals for colposcopy.

MeSH terms

  • Acetates*
  • Acetic Acid
  • Adult
  • Cervix Uteri / pathology*
  • Colposcopy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening / methods
  • Papanicolaou Test
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Uterine Cervical Dysplasia / diagnosis*
  • Uterine Cervical Dysplasia / epidemiology
  • Uterine Cervical Dysplasia / prevention & control
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Vaginal Smears


  • Acetates
  • Acetic Acid