Personal view. Is it reality or an illusion that liquid-based cytology is better than conventional cervical smears?

Cytopathology. 2001 Dec;12(6):383-9. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2303.2001.00375.x.


Liquid-based cytology (LBC) has been heralded as the way forward for cervical screening, and as the answer to many of its problems. It is already used as a sole method of cell preparation in many private clinics in the UK. It is being used for colposcopy smears in many NHS clinics and is now being piloted for primary screening in three screening centres in England, as well as one in Scotland and one in Wales. LBC has been welcomed as a new technology because it deals with the problem of specimen adequacy at source, removing responsibility for slide preparation and fixation from the clinician or nurse. It provides uniformly well-fixed preparations that are free of inflammatory exudate and blood, and seem easier to screen than conventional smears. There are many articles in the world literature suggesting that LBC is more accurate than conventional screening, and it is thought likely to reduce the number of false negative tests. The main reasons for piloting LBC in the NHS Cervical Screening Programme (NHSCSP) lie in its potential for reducing screening times and for reducing the numbers of repeats for inadequate tests. LBC is expensive in terms of equipment, capital costs, maintenance, consumables, training, technical preparation time, transportation and disposal of liquid media. Its costs could be justified if they were offset by the money saved from reduced screening time and repeat tests, but only if its accuracy in terms of sensitivity and specificity were proven to be equal to or better than conventional cytology. Although that is generally held to be true by the public and medical profession alike, there is very little hard evidence to support it.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening / economics
  • Mass Screening / methods*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Specimen Handling / methods
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Vaginal Smears / economics
  • Vaginal Smears / methods*