Comparison of visual inspection and Papanicolau (PAP) smears for cervical cancer screening in Honduras: should PAP smears be abandoned?

Trop Med Int Health. 2007 Sep;12(9):1018-25. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-3156.2007.01888.x.


Objective: To compare visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA) to Papanicolau (PAP) smears in a community setting in a developing nation.

Methods: Women undergoing cervical cancer screening in Honduras received either VIA and PAP smears (VIA/PAP group) or PAP smears alone (PAP-only group). Local healthcare providers performed PAP screening. A VIA-trained nurse performed VIA exams. All PAP smears were processed in Honduras. PAP smears from the VIA/PAP group were reviewed in the United States. Women with positive VIA or PAP tests were offered colposcopy. We compared the relative accuracy of PAP smears and VIA and the proportions of women completing follow-up colposcopy after positive screening tests.

Results: In total, 1709 PAP smears were performed including women from both the VIA/PAP and PAP-only groups. Nine PAP smears were positive (0.5%). Three women completed colposcopy (33%). All three had biopsy-confirmed dysplasia. In the VIA/PAP group (n = 339), 49 VIA exams were abnormal (14%) and two PAP smears were abnormal when read in Honduras (0.6%). When reviewed in the United States, 14 of the 339 PAP smears were abnormal (4%). Forty women (83%) completed follow-up colposcopy after a positive VIA exam. Twenty-three had biopsy-proven dysplasia. All 23 dysplasia cases had negative PAP smear readings in Honduras; four PAP smears were reclassified as positive in the United States.

Conclusions: Although few developing countries can maintain high-quality PAP smear programmes, many governments and charitable organizations support cervical cancer screening programmes that rely on PAP smears. This study underscores the need to promote alternative technologies for cervical cancer screening in low-resource settings.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetic Acid
  • Adult
  • Biopsy
  • Cervix Uteri / pathology*
  • Colposcopy / methods
  • Female
  • Honduras / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Papanicolaou Test*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Vaginal Smears*


  • Acetic Acid