A proposed new generation of evidence-based microsimulation models to inform global control of cervical cancer

Prev Med. 2021 Mar;144:106438. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2021.106438. Epub 2021 Mar 4.


Health decision models are the only available tools designed to consider the lifetime natural history of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection and pathogenesis of cervical cancer, and the estimated long-term impact of preventive interventions. Yet health decision modeling results are often considered a lesser form of scientific evidence due to the inherent needs to rely on imperfect data and make numerous assumptions and extrapolations regarding complex processes. We propose a new health decision modeling framework that de-emphasizes cytologic-colposcopic-histologic diagnoses due to their subjectivity and lack of reproducibility, relying instead on HPV type and duration of infection as the major determinants of subsequent transition probabilities. We posit that the new model health states (normal, carcinogenic HPV infection, precancer, cancer) and corollary transitions are universal, but that the probabilities of transitioning between states may vary by population. Evidence for this variability in host response to HPV infections can be inferred from HPV prevalence patterns in different regions across the lifespan, and might be linked to different average population levels of immunologic control of HPV infections. By prioritizing direct estimation of model transition probabilities from longitudinal data (and limiting reliance on model-fitting techniques that may propagate error when applied to multiple transitions), we aim to reduce the number of assumptions for greater transparency and reliability. We propose this new microsimulation model for critique and discussion, hoping to contribute to models that maximally inform efficient strategies towards global cervical cancer elimination.

Keywords: Cancer screening; Decision analysis; HPV DNA tests; Human papillomavirus (HPV); Mathematical model; Uterine cervical neoplasms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Cervical Intraepithelial Neoplasia*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Papillomaviridae
  • Papillomavirus Infections* / epidemiology
  • Papillomavirus Infections* / prevention & control
  • Papillomavirus Vaccines*
  • Prevalence
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms* / prevention & control


  • Papillomavirus Vaccines