Background: HPV screening has been shown to be more cost-effective than cytology screening under most scenarios. Furthermore, it should be offered only in organized programmes with good quality assurance mechanisms. This study analyses the comparative cost of the current policy of opportunistic cytology screening vs. a hypothetical organized programme based on primary HPV screening.
Methods: Total cervical cancer expenditure was defined as the sum of three cost elements: (i) direct (medical and non-medical) costs, obtained from a calibrated Markov model of the natural history of HPV and cervical cancer; (ii) programmatic costs, estimated based on other organized screening programmes; and (iii) indirect costs, extrapolated from previously published data.
Results: Organized HPV screening at 5-year intervals costs consistently less across all coverage levels than opportunistic cytology screening at 3-year intervals. The current annual direct medical cost to the public health system of the opportunistic cytology at 40% coverage is estimated at €33.2 per woman screened aged 25-64. Under an organized programme of primary HPV screening at 70% coverage, the cost is estimated to be €18.4 per woman screened aged 25-64.
Conclusion: Our study concludes that the economic resources currently devoted to providing opportunistic cytology screening to 40% of the target population at 3-year intervals could be more effectively used to screen 70% of the target population at 5-year intervals by switching to an organized programme based on primary HPV screening. This finding is of relevance to other European countries or regions with similar screening policies and health infrastructures.