Defining benchmarks for tolerable risk thresholds in cancer screening: Impact of HPV vaccination on the future of cervical cancer screening

Int J Cancer. 2020 Dec 15;147(12):3305-3312. doi: 10.1002/ijc.33178. Epub 2020 Jul 16.


The performance of cervical cancer screening will decline as a function of lower disease prevalence-a consequence of successful human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination. Replacement of cytology with molecular HPV testing as the primary screening test and adoption of risk-based screening, with less intense screening of vaccinated individuals and initiated at older ages is expected to improve efficiency. However, policy officials may decide to further reduce or eliminate screening as the ratio of benefits to harms continues to decline. To evaluate the level of risk currently tolerated for different cancers in the United States (ie, for which clinical guidelines do not recommend secondary prevention though effective screening methods exist), we used US cancer registry data to compare incidence (2008-2012) and survival (1988-2011) associated with different cancers for which organized screening is recommended and not recommended. The most common cancer at ages 70 to 74 years (ie, age group with highest cancer incidence and reasonable life expectancy to consider screening in the US) satisfying Wilson and Jungner's classic screening criteria was vulvar cancer (incidence = 9/100 000 females). In comparison, the incidence of cervical cancer among females 65 years of age (the upper recommended age limit for screening) was 13 cases per 100 000 females (low as a reflection of effective screening), whereas 10-year survival was 66% (similar to vulvar cancer at 67%). Our approach of defining tolerable risk in cancer screening could help guide future decisions to modify cervical screening programs.

Keywords: HPV vaccination; cervical cancer; screening; tolerable risk.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Benchmarking
  • Early Detection of Cancer / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Papillomavirus Vaccines / therapeutic use*
  • Registries
  • Survival Analysis
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / mortality


  • Papillomavirus Vaccines