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J Natl Cancer Inst. 2000 May 17;92(10):818-25.

Human papillomavirus DNA testing for cervical cancer screening in low-resource settings.

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  • 1Gertrude H. Sergievsky Center, College of Physicians and Surgeons, and Division of Epidemiology, Joseph L. Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, NY 10032, USA.



In many low-resource settings, there are barriers to cytologic screening for cervical cancer. This study evaluates human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA testing as an alternative screening method.


Cervical samples from 2944 previously unscreened South African women aged 35-65 years were tested for high-risk types of HPV with the use of the Hybrid Capture I (HCI) assay. Women also had a Pap smear, direct visual inspection of the cervix, and Cervicography(TM). Women positive on any screening test were referred for colposcopy. Samples from women with biopsy-confirmed, low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions (SILs) (n = 95), high-grade SILs (n = 74), or invasive cervical cancer (n = 12) and a random sample of women with no cervical disease (n = 243) were retested for HPV DNA with the use of the more sensitive Hybrid Capture II (HCII) assay. All P values are two-sided.


High-risk HPV DNA was detected in 73.3% and 88.4% of 86 women with high-grade SIL or invasive cancer and in 12.2% of 2680 and 18.1% of 243 women without evidence of cervical disease, with the use of the HCI and HCII assays, respectively. HPV DNA testing with the HCII assay was more sensitive than cytology for detecting high-grade SIL and invasive cancer (McNemar's test, P =.04), and testing with the HCI assay was of equivalent sensitivity (P =.61). Cytology had a statistically significantly better specificity (96.8%) than either the HCI assay (87.8%) or the HCII assay (81.9%) (P<.01). Receiver operating characteristic curves identified test cutoff values that allow HPV DNA testing to identify 57% of women with high-grade SIL or cancer, while classifying less than 5% of women with no cervical disease as HPV DNA positive.


HPV DNA testing has a sensitivity equivalent to, or better than, that of cytology. Since HPV DNA testing programs may be easier to implement than cytologic screening, HPV testing should be considered for primary cervical cancer screening in low-resource settings.

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