Co-testing in cervical screening among 40- to 42-year-old women is unreasonable

Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 2022 Mar;101(3):374-378. doi: 10.1111/aogs.14311. Epub 2022 Jan 5.


Introduction: The screening program for cervical cancer in Sweden recommends the use of primary human papillomavirus (HPV) screening for women aged ≥30 to 65 years. Co-testing with both HPV analysis and cytology is recommended at the first screening after the age of 40 years. To fulfil co-testing, all screened women aged 40-42 years within the region of Skåne were co-tested. The aim of the audit was to investigate the proportion of severe dysplasia as diagnosed by cytology and histological follow-up among women with Aptima HPV-negative tests. We also calculated the cost of adding the cytology to the HPV primary screening program.

Material and methods: The local cytology registry was used to identify women aged 40-42 years who attended screening and were co-tested during the 4 years from January 2017 to December 2020. The Aptima HPV messenger RNA assay detects 14 HPV types. For Aptima HPV-negative women with high-grade cytology or histological high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions (HSILs), we performed extended HPV typing for 40 HPV types with polymerase chain reaction using modified GP5+/6+ primers followed by a Luminex assay. To estimate the added cost of using cytology to identify each histologically confirmed cervical HSIL case among Aptima HPV-negative women, we used the current cost of €21.2 per cytology evaluation at our laboratory.

Results: Of 19 599 women, 5.8% (1137/19 599) had abnormal cytology. Among Aptima HPV-negative women, 0.11‰ (2/18 132) had histologically confirmed HSIL. One of the women was infected with HPV18 and the other with HPV73 at the diagnosis of HSIL. The calculated cost to find one HSIL, by adding cytology to HPV-negative cases, was approximately €200 000.

Conclusions: The clinical benefit of a single cytology co-test added to an HPV-based screening program in women aged 40-42 years appears doubtful and economically unreasonable.

Keywords: HPV; cervical screening; co-testing; cytology; organized screening program.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Early Detection of Cancer
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening
  • Papillomaviridae / genetics
  • Papillomavirus Infections* / diagnosis
  • Squamous Intraepithelial Lesions*
  • Uterine Cervical Dysplasia* / pathology
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Vaginal Smears