Background and objective: Human papillomavirus (HPV) infections appear to be central to the development of cervical cancer. This study addresses the question of whether testing women who have low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions (LSILs) of the uterine cervix for HPV DNA is useful as a triage strategy.
Methods: Four clinical centers in different areas of the United States participated in a randomized clinical trial of the use of HPV DNA testing in women with cytologic evidence of atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance (ASCUS) or LSIL. The study sample in this article consists only of women who had LSIL at enrollment. Within 6 months of an LSIL diagnosis (based on a Pap smear read by a community-based cytopathologist), women who were 18 years of age or older completed a standardized questionnaire and underwent a pelvic examination that included collection of cervical specimens for HPV DNA testing by Hybrid Capture II (HCII)(R) assay.
Results: Among the 642 women referred with LSIL who had analyzable test results, the mean chronologic age and age at first coitus were similar among the four clinical centers, despite the centers' ethnic and geographic diversity. Overall, HPV DNA was detected in cervical samples from 532 (82.9%) of the 642 women (95% confidence interval = 79.7%-85.7%). This high frequency of HPV positivity was confirmed by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays in a subset of 210 paired specimens tested by HCII and PCR (81.4% were positive by both methods).
Conclusion: Because a very high percentage of women with an LSIL diagnosis from Pap smears are positive for HPV DNA by HCII testing, there is limited potential for this assay to direct decisions about the clinical management of women with LSIL. The role of HPV testing in the management of women with ASCUS is still under study.