Evaluation of human papillomavirus testing in primary screening for cervical abnormalities: comparison of sensitivity, specificity, and frequency of referral

Shalini L Kulasingam, James P Hughes, Nancy B Kiviat, Constance Mao, Noel S Weiss, Jane M Kuypers, Laura A Koutsky
JAMA 2002 October 9, 288 (14): 1749-57

CONTEXT: Human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA testing of women having Papanicolaou (Pap) smears showing atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance (ASCUS) has clinical usefulness. Whether HPV DNA testing alone is useful in primary screening remains to be determined.

OBJECTIVE: To determine the accuracy of HPV DNA testing for detecting cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) grade 3 or cancer (the criterion standard).

DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: Between December 1997 and October 2000, 4075 women who attended Planned Parenthood clinics in Washington State were screened simultaneously using thin-layer Pap and HPV DNA testing by a polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based method and by a liquid-based RNA-DNA hybridization capture with signal amplification assay (signal amplification). Women who were positive for high-risk HPV types, or had Pap results of ASCUS or higher, were considered to have positive screening test results and were referred for colposcopy and biopsy. Additionally, a random sample of women with negative screening test results was referred for colposcopy. Based on individual and combined thin-layer Pap, HPV PCR, and HPV signal amplification test results from the screening and the colposcopy visits, 7 colposcopy triage strategies were defined and evaluated.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE: Sensitivity and specificity for detecting cervical lesions graded CIN 3 or higher for each of the 7 triage strategies.

RESULTS: The estimated prevalence of CIN 3 or higher was 3.2%. The sensitivity (95% confidence interval) of thin-layer Pap (with a result of > or = ASCUS) for identifying women with CIN 3 or higher was only 61.3% (48.5%-70.9%) compared with 88.2% (78.9%-93.8%) for HPV testing by PCR and 90.8% (83.1%-95.8%) by signal amplification. Differences in specificities were also observed: 82.4% (81.8%-83.1%) for thin-layer Pap (with a result of > or = ASCUS), 78.8% (77.9%-79.7%) for PCR, and 72.6% (69.4%-75.0%) for signal amplification. Compared with referral for colposcopy of all women with ASCUS or higher, signal amplification testing of women with ASCUS and referral of those with a positive result was about as sensitive (61.3% vs 60.3%, respectively) and significantly more specific (82.4% vs 88.9%, respectively). The strategy requiring repeat positive PCR tests on 2 visits had a sensitivity of 84.2% (75.3%-91.0%) and a specificity of 86.2% (85.1%-87.3%). All tests were more specific and less sensitive in older (> or = 30 years) vs younger women.

CONCLUSIONS: Testing for HPV has higher sensitivity but lower specificity than thin-layer Pap screening. In some settings, particularly where screening intervals are long or haphazard, screening for HPV DNA may be a reasonable alternative to cytology-based screening of reproductive-age women.

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