Context: A Papanicolaou (Pap) test result of atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance (ASCUS) presents a clinical challenge. Only 5% to 10% of women with ASCUS harbor serious cervical disease, but more than one third of the high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions (HSILs) in screening populations are identified from ASCUS Pap test results.
Objective: To determine whether human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA testing of residual material from liquid-based Pap tests and referral of cases found to be HPV-positive directly to colposcopy could provide sensitive detection of underlying HSILs in women with ASCUS Pap results, compared with repeat Pap testing.
Design and setting: Natural history of women with ASCUS Pap smear results, all of whom had liquid-based cytology, HPV testing, and subsequent repeat Pap tests and colposcopy with histologic evaluation, conducted at 12 gynecology clinics in a large managed care organization between October 1995 and June 1996.
Participants: From a cohort of 46009 women who had routine cervical examinations, 995 women with Pap test results of ASCUS who consented to participate were identified.
Main outcome measures: Cervical histology, HPV test results, and repeat Pap smear results, and sensitivity of HPV testing to identify patients found to have HSIL+ histology.
Results: Of 995 participants with ASCUS Pap test results, 973 had both a definitive histologic diagnosis and HPV result. Sixty-five (6.7%) had histologic HSIL or cancer. For women with histologic HSIL+, the HPV test was positive in 89.2% (95% confidence interval [CI], 78.4%-95.2%), and the specificity was 64.1 % (95% CI, 60.9%-67.2%). The repeat Pap smear result was abnormal in 76.2% (95% CI, 63.5%-85.7%). Triage based on HPV testing only or on repeat Pap testing only would refer similar proportions (approximately 39%) to colposcopy. The sensitivity of HPV DNA testing for HSIL was equivalent to, if not greater than, that of the repeat Pap test. We further estimated that an HPV-based algorithm including the immediate colposcopy of HPV-positive women, and then repeat Pap testing of all others, would provide an overall sensitivity of 96.9% (95% CI, 88.3%-99.5%).
Conclusions: For women with ASCUS Pap tests, HPV DNA testing of residual specimens collected for routine cervical cytology can help identify those who have underlying HSIL. By testing the specimen collected at initial screening, the majority of high-risk cases can be identified and referred for colposcopy based on a single screening.