Costs and benefits of different strategies to screen for cervical cancer in less-developed countries

Jeanne S Mandelblatt, William F Lawrence, Lynne Gaffikin, Khunying Kobchitt Limpahayom, Pisake Lumbiganon, Suwanna Warakamin, Jason King, Bin Yi, Patricia Ringers, Paul D Blumenthal
Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2002 October 2, 94 (19): 1469-83

BACKGROUND: About 80% of cervical cancers occur in less-developed countries. This disproportionate burden of cervical cancer in such countries is due mainly to the lack of well-organized screening programs. Several cervical cancer screening strategies have been proposed as more cost-effective than cytology screening. We compared the costs and benefits of different strategies and their effectiveness in saving lives in a less-developed country.

METHODS: We used a population-based simulation model to evaluate the incremental societal costs and benefits in Thailand of seven screening techniques, including visual inspection of the cervix after applying acetic acid (VIA), human papillomavirus (HPV) testing, Pap smear, and combinations of screening tests, and examined the discounted costs per year of life saved (LYS).

RESULTS: Compared with no (i.e., not well-organized) screening, all strategies saved lives, at costs ranging from 121 US dollars to 6720 US dollars per LYS, and reduced mortality, by up to 58%. Comparing each strategy with the next least expensive alternative, VIA performed at 5-year intervals in women of ages 35-55 with immediate treatment if abnormalities are found was the least expensive option and saved the greatest number of lives, with a cost of 517 US dollars per LYS. HPV screening resulted in similar costs and benefits, if the test cost is 5 US dollars and if 90% of women undergo follow-up after an abnormal screen. Cytology (Pap smear) was a reasonable alternative if sensitivity exceeds 80% and if 90% of women undergo follow-up. Compared with no screening, use of a combination of Pap smear and HPV testing at 5-year intervals in women of ages 20-70 could achieve greater than 90% reduction in cervical cancer mortality at a cost of 1683 US dollars per LYS, and VIA could achieve 83% reduction at 524 US dollars per LYS.

CONCLUSIONS: Well-organized screening programs can reduce cervical cancer mortality in less-developed countries at low costs. These cost-effectiveness data can enhance decision-making about optimal policies for a given setting.

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