Management of minor cervical cytological abnormalities: a systematic review and a meta-analysis of the literature

Cancer Treat Rev. 2007 Oct;33(6):514-20. doi: 10.1016/j.ctrv.2007.05.002. Epub 2007 Jul 20.


Background: A significant number of women are diagnosed with a low grade cytological abnormality on cervical screening. Many authorities recommend surveillance as spontaneous regression might occur. However, protracted attendance for cytological follow-up decreases with time and might put some women at risk of developing invasive disease. The aim of this review was to assess management options for women with minor cervical disease.

Methods: An electronic literature search was conducted. All randomised controlled studies comparing immediate colposcopy to cytological surveillance in women with cervical atypia/borderline nuclear changes or low-grade lesions were included. The main outcomes studied were the default rates from the colposcopy clinic and the histological status of biopsies within immediate management protocols compared to biopsies taken on completion of surveillance. Pooled relative risks and 95% confidence intervals were calculated using a random-effect model and inter-study heterogeneity was assessed with Cochrane's Q-test.

Results: Three randomised controlled trials identified from the literature search with different surveillance periods were combined. The analysis revealed that compliance with follow-up declines over time and reaches significance at the end of 24 months of surveillance (RR: 74.10 [10.36, 529.79]). There was a significantly higher incidence of HPV and CIN 1 in those women referred to immediate colposcopy/treatment compared to those at the end of 24 months surveillance period (32% vs 21%) (RR 1.49, 95% CI 1.17-1.90) and (21% vs 8%) (RR 2.58, 95% CI 1.69-3.94), respectively, possibly explained by spontaneous regression of clinically non-important lesions. Finally, there was no significant difference in the incidence of CIN2 or worse at initial colposcopy compared with the observation group (24 months) (RR 1.72, 95% CI 0.85-3.48).

Conclusion: Cytological surveillance puts women at risk as many show poor compliance and such women might have occult high grade abnormalities. A general policy should be immediate colposcopy for all women after a single low grade cervical smear.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cervix Uteri / pathology
  • Colposcopy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Papillomaviridae / genetics
  • Papillomaviridae / isolation & purification*
  • Papillomavirus Infections / diagnosis*
  • Papillomavirus Infections / virology
  • Precancerous Conditions / diagnosis
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Risk Factors
  • Uterine Cervical Dysplasia / diagnosis
  • Uterine Cervical Dysplasia / prevention & control*
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Vaginal Smears*