Expert Commentary

ASCCP guidelines for managing abnormal cervical cancer tests: What’s new?

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They’ve traded in algorithms for risk, and there will soon be a new app to streamline navigation of the guidelines



The 2019 ASCCP Risk-Based Management Consensus Guidelines for Abnormal Cervical Cancer Screening Tests and Cancer Precursors Consensus Guidelines, which represent a consensus of nearly 20 professional organizations and patient advocates, are a culmination of almost 10 years of research.1 With the last version issued in 2012,2 these latest guidelines offer the most recent recommendations regarding safely triaging women with abnormal cervical cancer screening results.

According to the consensus, research has shown that risk-based management allows clinicians to better discriminate women who will likely develop precancer from those who can safely continue with routine screening. As you will hear from guidelines coauthor Dr. Warner Huh, one of the most important differences between these guidelines and the 2012 version is a new emphasis on the principle of “equal management for equal risk.” Essentially, this insures that all women who have the same amount of risk for progression to precancer or cancer are managed the same.

The guidelines were once again published in the Journal of Lower Genital Tract Disease, and the tables they reference are publicly available. Additionally, ASCCP is developing a new management guidelines app to facilitate the use of the guidelines on smartphones and computers. With the publicly available risk tables, and the ASCCP navigation app, the guidelines will more easily accommodate updates as new information and technology become available.

OBG Management: The latest ASCCP guidelines, published in April, represent a “paradigm shift” from results to risk-based guidelines. Can you explain what this means and why the shift was undertaken?

Warner K. Huh, MD: Yes, the shift occurred because we needed to focus less on algorithms and more on risk. We started promulgating a concept of “equal management for equal risk” back in 2012. What this means is that if we have a method to look up a risk score based on relevant test results and other pieces of information, then all patients with that score should be managed in the same manner. We wanted that to be the underlying principle.

Focusing on risk tables also makes it easier to incorporate any future technologies used for risk estimation without having to rebuild algorithms from scratch. ASCCP is developing a new management guidelines app to streamline navigation of the guidelines. This app makes them easier for clinicians to use; they simply plug in certain variables from the patient’s history and receive 1 of 5 outputs: treatment, colposcopy, or surveillance at 1, 3, or 5 years.

The only drawbacks, if you view them as such, are that the clinician must plug in all the variables, and then must sit back and trust in what we have done. Clinicians have to trust that the system works and will simplify the clinical decision making.

We spent a lot of time determining what the risk thresholds should be. Some may argue they are arbitrary, but the decisions were data-driven, and carefully, thoughtfully vetted; we deliberated about whether the cut points actually made sense clinically to a practicing clinician base. The clinical action thresholds refer to a specific percentage below which a woman falls into one bucket and above which she falls into another bucket.

The other element that is unique about the guidelines is that instead of looking at the patient’s current screening result in isolation, the user sees it along with the prior one because prior history dictates subsequent risk.

It’s important that clinicians understand why this system is so markedly different from what we have done previously, and why risk-based guidelines make infinitely more sense than algorithmic ones. It’s because: 1) they can be easier to use; 2) they incorporate new data more efficiently and effectively than algorithm-based guidelines; and 3) they can incorporate future technologies seamlessly rather than having to create yet another algorithm.

Continue to: OBG Management : What do clinicians need in order to execute the guidelines?...

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