A 35-year-old healthy woman without a history of high-grade precancerous cervical lesions, immunodeficiency, or exposure to diethylstilbestrol presents to your office for her routine health visit. During your conversation with her, she shares, “I read on the Internet that I only need to be tested for human papillomavirus, but I’m wondering how I’ll be checked for cervical cancer.” She asks for your opinion about cervical cancer screening methods.
The National Cancer Institute predicts that there will be 13,800 new cases of cervical cancer this year, with an estimated 4290 deaths.3 This type of cancer is primarily caused by high-risk human papillomavirus (hrHPV) infections. Fortunately, high-grade precancerous cervical lesions and cervical cancer can be detected with routine Papanicolaou (Pap) smears, which have led to a substantial decrease in the number of deaths from cervical cancer in the United States—from 2.8 per 100,000 women in 2000 to 2.3 deaths per 100,000 women in 2015.3 In addition to hrHPV infection, risk factors for cervical cancer include low socioeconomic status, cigarette smoking, marrying before 18 years of age, young age at first coitus, multiple sexual partners, multiple sexual partners of a partner, and multiple childbirths.4
Cervical cancer is associated with numerous negative outcomes, including a decrease in quality of life, decreased libido, poor mental health, infertility, negative body image, and death.5 This is particularly true among women of lower socioeconomic status or whose language differs from that of their primary health care provider.1,5
Given the enormous impact cervical cancer screening has made on the detection and mortality rate of this devastating disease,4,5 it is crucial to identify the types of screening tests and screening intervals that lead to the greatest benefit and least harm for all patient populations. The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) previously addressed this issue in 2012, concluding that cytology alone every 3 years for women ages 21 to 65 years and cytology alone every 3 years or co-testing with cytology and hrHPV every 5 years in women ages 30 to 65 years was of substantial benefit (strength of recommendation [SOR]: A).6
Another option for some women: hrHPV testing alone every 5 years
In this 2018 systematic review and modeling study by the USPSTF, randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and cohort studies that compared cytology to hrHPV testing alone or co-testing (cytology with hrHPV) were used to determine the optimal frequency of, and age group for, cervical cancer screening that would yield the least harm and the most benefit from each of these screening methods.7-9
Similar to the previous recommendation, the USPSTF found that screening women < 21 years or > 65 years if previously adequately screened (defined as 3 consecutive negative screenings or 2 negative screenings within the past 10 years with the most recent being within the past 5 years) led to more harm than benefit. They therefore concluded that women in these age groups should not be screened routinely (SOR: D). The USPSTF also recommends against cervical cancer screening in women who have had a hysterectomy with removal of the cervix and who do not have a history of a high-grade precancerous lesion or cervical cancer (SOR: D).
However, for women ages 21 to 65 years, the USPSTF found that screening substantially reduces cervical cancer incidence and mortality, and that for women ages 21 to 29 years, screening every 3 years with cytology alone offers the best balance of benefits and harms (SOR: A). For women ages 30 to 65 years, the USPSTF recommends screening every 3 years with cytology alone or every 5 years with either primary hrHPV testing or co-testing (hrHPV with cytology) (SOR: A). The recommendations apply to all asymptomatic women with a cervix; exceptions include those with a history of a high-grade precancerous cervical lesion or cancer, in utero exposure to diethylstilbestrol, or a compromised immune system.
Continue to: The change