Context: Cervical cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related death among women in developing countries. In such low-resource settings, cytology-based screening is difficult to implement, and less complex strategies may offer additional options.
Objective: To assess the cost-effectiveness of several cervical cancer screening strategies using population-specific data.
Design and setting: Cost-effectiveness analysis using a mathematical model and a hypothetical cohort of previously unscreened 30-year-old black South African women. Screening tests included direct visual inspection (DVI) of the cervix, cytologic methods, and testing for high-risk types of human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA. Strategies differed by number of clinical visits, screening frequency, and response to a positive test result. Data sources included a South African screening study, national surveys and fee schedules, and published literature.
Main outcome measures: Years of life saved (YLS), lifetime costs in US dollars, and incremental cost-effectiveness ratios (cost per YLS).
Results: When analyzing all strategies performed as a single lifetime screen at age 35 years compared with no screening, HPV testing followed by treatment of screen-positive women at a second visit, cost $39/YLS (27% cancer incidence reduction); DVI, coupled with immediate treatment of screen-positive women at the first visit was next most effective (26% cancer incidence reduction) and was cost saving; cytology, followed by treatment of screen-positive women at a second visit was least effective (19% cancer incidence reduction) at a cost of $81/YLS. For any given screening frequency, when strategies were compared incrementally, HPV DNA testing generally was more effective but also more costly than DVI, and always was more effective and less costly than cytology. When comparing all strategies simultaneously across screening frequencies, DVI was the nondominated strategy up to a frequency of every 3 years (incremental cost-effectiveness ratio, $460/YLS), and HPV testing every 3 years (incremental cost-effectiveness ratio, $11 500/YLS) was the most effective strategy.
Conclusion: Cervical cancer screening strategies that incorporate DVI or HPV DNA testing and eliminate colposcopy may offer attractive alternatives to cytology-based screening programs in low-resource settings.