Background: More than ever, clinicians need regularly updated reviews given the continuously increasing amount of new information regarding innovative cervical cancer prevention methods.
Material and methods: A summary is given from recently published meta-analyses on three possible clinical applications of human papillomavirus (HPV)-DNA testing: triage of women with equivocal or low-grade cytological abnormalities; prediction of the therapeutic outcome after treatment of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) lesions, and last not but not least, primary screening for cervical cancer and pre-cancer.
Results: Consistent evidence is available indicating that HPV-triage with the Hybrid Capture-2 assay (HC2) is more accurate (significantly higher sensitivity, similar specificity) than repeat cytology to triage women with equivocal Pap smear results. When triaging women with low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions (LSIL), a reflex HC2 test does not show a significantly higher sensitivity, but a significantly lower specificity compared to a repeat Pap smear. After treatment of cervical lesions, HPV testing easily detects (with higher sensitivity and not lower specificity) residual or recurrent CIN than follow-up cytology. Primary screening with HC2 generally detects 23% (95% confidence interval, CI: 13-23%) more CIN-2, CIN-3, or cancer compared to cytology at cut-off atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance (ASCUS) or LSIL, but is 6% (95% CI: 4-8%) less specific. By combined HPV and cytology screening, a further 4% (95% CI: 3-5%) more CIN-3 lesions can be identified but at the expense of a 7% (95% CI: 5-9%) loss in specificity, in comparison with isolated HC2 screening.
Conclusions: Sufficient evidence exists to recommend HPV testing in triage of women with atypical cytology and in surveillance after treatment of CIN lesions. In the United States, recently reviewed knowledge has resulted in the approval of combined cytology and HC2 primary screening in women older than 30 years. However, in Europe, cytology-based screening still remains the standard screening method. The European screening policy will be reviewed based on the longitudinal results of randomised population trials which are currently underway.