Clinical Review

2018 Update on gynecologic cancer

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Gynecologic malignancies remain a major cause of morbidity and mortality. In this article: latest cervical cancer screening recommendations from the USPSTF, and 2 endometrial cancer news items, on SLN biopsy and PD-1 blockade immunotherapy.



In this Update, I report on the latest US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) cervical cancer screening recommendations. In addition, I describe the results of 2 studies, a large prospective multicenter study of the accuracy of sentinel lymph node (SLN) biopsy in endometrial cancer, and a proof-of-concept review of use of checkpoint blockade to increase immune response and of its possible role in endometrial cancer.

hrHPV testing used alone as primary screening for cervical cancer: USPSTF recommendations

US Preventive Services Task Force. Draft recommendation statement: cervical cancer: screening. Published October 2017. Accessed February 5, 2018.

Despite our rapid advances in understanding the molecular underpinnings of cancer, gynecologic malignancies are still a major cause of morbidity and mortality among women. Cervical cancer stands as an example of how a cancer screening test can be implemented to reduce mortality. In this section, I report on the USPSTF cervical cancer screening recommendations, which were updated in October 2017.

Even with the widespread implementation of screening programs for cervical cancer in the United States, 13,240 women will be diagnosed with the disease in 2018, and 4,170 will die from cervical cancer.1 Most often, cervical cancer occurs in women who have not been adequately screened. It is now recognized that the human papillomavirus (HPV) is the cause of cervical cancer.2

While cervical cytology has long been used as a screening test for cervical cancer, testing for high-risk HPV subtypes (hrHPV testing) also has been used as a screening modality. Traditionally, hrHPV testing is used in combination with cervical cytology, so called cotesting. There is convincing evidence that cervical cytology, as well as strategies that use hrHPV testing, can detect high-grade cervical precancers and cancers and thereby reduce mortality. However, cervical cancer screening is also associated with frequent follow-ups, invasive procedures performed to assess abnormal results, psychological distress, and adverse pregnancy outcomes of treatment for precancerous lesions.

The USPSTF based its new cervical cancer screening recommendations on clinical trial data and decision modeling of various screening strategies, and weighed the benefits and harms of each strategy.

Recommendations from the USPSTF

hrHPV screening for cervical cancer. TheUSPSTF recommends screening with cervical cytology every 3 years for women 21 to 29 years of age. For women 30 to 65 years of age, screening with cytology every 3 years, or hrHPV testing alone used every 5 years, is recommended.

Data from large randomized trials suggest cytologic screening is slightly less sensitive than hrHPV testing in detecting high-grade (grade 2 or 3) cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN). However, hrHPV testing results in more follow-up tests and colposcopies. In a decision model, the USPSTF found that cotesting increased the number of follow-up tests but did not increase detection of grade 3 CIN or invasive cancer. This is the first clinical guideline to recommend hrHPV testing used alone for screening. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) continues to recommend cotesting (cytology in combination with hrHPV) as a primary screening modality in this population.3

Exceptions. According to the USPSTF, 3 populations should not be screened: women over 65 years of age with adequate prior screening who are not otherwise at high risk for cervical cancer; women under 21 years of age; and women who have had a hysterectomy and do not have a history of grade 2 or 3 CIN or cancer.

Summary. The USPSTF recommendations are intended for the general population and are not applicable to women with a history of high-grade CIN or cervical cancer, women with in utero exposure to diethylstilbestrol, and women who are immunocompromised. The remaining USPSTF recommendations are largely in line with guidelines published by ACOG and other groups.3,4


Testing for high-risk HPV alone is a reasonable screening option for cervical cancer. This modality can be used in women 30 to 65 years of age but should not be repeated more frequently than every 5 years in those with a negative result.

Read about SLN biopsy to stage endometrial cancer

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