Cost-effectiveness of alternative triage strategies for atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance

JAMA. 2002 May 8;287(18):2382-90. doi: 10.1001/jama.287.18.2382.


Context: Every year approximately 2 million US women are diagnosed as having a cervical cytological result of atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance (ASC-US).

Objective: To determine the most efficient and cost-effective management strategy for women in the United States diagnosed as having ASC-US.

Design and setting: Cost-effectiveness analysis of data from clinical trials, prospective studies, and other published literature. A computer-based model was used to compare 4 management strategies for a cytological result of ASC-US: immediate colposcopy; human papillomavirus (HPV) triage, which includes colposcopy if high-risk HPV types are detected; repeat cytology, which includes follow-up cytology at 6 and 12 months and referral for colposcopy if a repeat abnormal result occurs; and reclassifying ASC-US as normal in which a cytological result of ASC-US is ignored. Reflex HPV DNA testing uses either residual liquid-based cytological specimens or samples co-collected at the time of the initial screening for conventional cytology. Another method, referred to as the 2-visit HPV DNA triage, requires a woman with an ASC-US result to return within 1 month to provide another speciman sample.

Main outcome measures: Years of life saved (YLS), quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs), and incremental cost-effectiveness ratios.

Results: The least costly strategy for biennial screening was to reclassify ASC-US as normal, resulting in a reduction in total cancer incidence of 75% for conventional cytology and 84% for liquid-based cytology compared with no screening. The next least costly strategy was HPV DNA testing resulting in a reduction in total cancer incidence of 86% for conventional cytology and 90% for liquid-based cytology, followed by immediate colposcopy with a reduction of 87% and 91%, respectively. Compared with reflex HPV DNA testing, a strategy of repeat cervical cytology or delayed HPV testing costs more but is less effective. When all strategies were compared simultaneously, varying frequency and type of cytological test, biennial (vs every 3 years) liquid-based cytology with reflex HPV testing had a cost of $174 200 per YLS. In a similar comparison, liquid-based cytology with reflex HPV testing conducted every 3 years (vs every 5 years) had a cost of $59 600 per YLS and was more effective and less costly than a strategy of conventional cytology incorporating repeat cytology or immediate colposcopy conducted biennially.

Conclusion: Reflex HPV DNA testing provides the same or greater life expectancy benefits and is more cost-effective than other management strategies for women diagnosed as having ASC-US.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Colposcopy / economics
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • DNA, Viral / analysis
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Health Status Indicators
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening / economics*
  • Mass Screening / methods
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Papillomaviridae / isolation & purification*
  • Papillomavirus Infections / diagnosis*
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years
  • Tumor Virus Infections / diagnosis*
  • United States
  • Uterine Cervical Dysplasia / diagnosis
  • Uterine Cervical Dysplasia / economics*
  • Uterine Cervical Dysplasia / prevention & control*
  • Uterine Cervical Dysplasia / virology
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / economics*
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / virology
  • Vaginal Smears / economics


  • DNA, Viral