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Cervical Cancer Health Center

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Cervical Cancer Screening (PDQ®): Screening - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Description of the Evidence


Women aged 20 years and younger are more likely to have Pap abnormalities leading to further testing and treatment (refer to the Evidence of Harm section of this summary for more information), so forgoing Pap testing in these women may improve the benefit-risk balance for this intervention. Women in this age group have a very low risk of cervical cancer and a high likelihood that cervical cell abnormalities will go away on their own.[68]

HSIL are rare among women older than 65 years who have been previously screened. For women with a negative Pap test at age 60 years and older, the likelihood of having a new diagnosis of CIN 3+ on repeat screening is less than 1 in 1,000 (in some studies, as few as 2-6 in 10,000).[37]

Alternative Screening and Treatment Strategies in Low-resource Settings

Choice in methods of screening for cervical cancer in resource-limited countries or underserved populations has prompted the evaluation of one-time screen-and-treat approaches for cervical cancer screening.

A clustered, randomized, controlled trial in rural India evaluated the impact of one-time visual inspection of the cervix with acetic acid (VIA) and immediate colposcopy, directed biopsy, and cryotherapy (where indicated) on cervical cancer incidence and mortality in healthy women aged 30 to 59 years.[69] Fifty-seven clusters (n = 31,343 women) received the intervention, while 56 control clusters (n = 30,958 women) received counseling and education about cervical cancer screening. After 7 years of follow-up, with adjustments for age, education, marital status, parity, and cluster design, there was a 25% relative reduction in cervical cancer incidence in the intervention arm compared with the control group (hazard ratio [HR], 0.75; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.55-0.95). Using the same adjustments, cervical cancer mortality rates demonstrated a 35% relative reduction in the intervention arm compared with the control group (HR, 0.65; 95% CI, 0.47-0.89); the age-standardized rate of death due to cervical cancer was 39.6 per 100,000 person-years for the intervention group versus 56.7 per 100,000 person-years for the control group. However, the same authors have subsequently reported that HPV testing is superior at reducing cervical cancer mortality using the same cohort.[70] This population was essentially screen naive at entry into the study and demonstrated a much higher overall risk for cervical cancer death (11% of the controls) than that observed in the U.S. population; the applicability of these findings to the United States and similar western health care systems is therefore difficult to assess. Histological diagnosis of cervical lesions happened after treatment had already taken place, and approximately 27% of patients in this trial received cryotherapy for lesions later determined to be nonmalignant.[71]

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