Objective: To compare the performance of human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA detection against routine Papanicolaou smear for the detection of low- and high-grade cervical intraepithelial neoplasia in a low-risk population.
Materials and methods: A cross-sectional study was performed involving 1296 women attending six outpatient clinics in Northern Greece (Thessaloniki, Thermi, Mihaniona, Corfu, Veria, and Serres). Women underwent a gynecological examination, including collection of exfoliated cervical cells for Papanicolaou cytology and HPV DNA detection. Cytology was processed according the conventional routine manner, and HPV DNA was determined using the polymerase chain reaction technique. In positive cases of either method, a complete colposcopic evaluation was performed with directed biopsies. Tests (HPV DNA, cytology, and colposcopy) performance characteristics were determined using the histopathologic diagnosis as the reference standard.
Results: HPV DNA testing showed a significantly better sensitivity than the Papanicolaou smear in detecting cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (75% versus 50% for high-grade lesions and 81.2% versus 50% for lesions of any grade, respectively). Specificity, and positive and negative predictive values did not significantly differ. Even after dividing women in younger or older than 30 years, the sensitivity of the HPV DNA test was greater than cytology (100% and 70% versus 50% for cytology in both groups, respectively), with a 6.3% loss in specificity when performed in women younger than 30 years.
Conclusion: HPV testing could be useful in screening women at low risk for cervical cancer, either as an adjunct tool to augment existing cytology programs or as a unique test of its own.