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Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2008 Nov;141(1):75-8. doi: 10.1016/j.ejogrb.2008.07.007. Epub 2008 Aug 30.

Does experience in colposcopy improve identification of high grade abnormalities?

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  • 1Department of Gynecology/Obstetrics, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, The Netherlands.



This study investigates whether experience in colposcopy improves identification of high grade abnormalities. The sensitivity and positive predictive value (PPV) of colposcopy in identifying high grade intra-epithelial lesions (HSIL) performed by relatively inexperienced as compared to experienced colposcopists are evaluated.


Of 18,421 colposcopies performed at the Royal Women's Hospital, Melbourne, Australia, between 1999 and 2004 by 5 senior and 11 junior colposcopists, the colposcopic impression was correlated with the histopathology result of the biopsy taken at 6020 colposcopies, with respect to the experience of the colposcopist.


Colposcopy had a 60% sensitivity and 60% PPV in identifying HSIL in this study. In case of a high-grade referral smear the sensitivity and PPV in identifying HSIL were, respectively 76% and 73%, compared with 26% and 48% in case of a low-grade referral smear, no difference in overall colposcopic performance between experienced and inexperienced colposcopists was observed. However, the sensitivity of identifying HSIL was significantly higher with inexperienced colposcopists, and the PPV was significantly higher with experienced colposcopists.


In this study experience did not improve colposcopic performance, but differences in colposcopic strategy between the two groups were noted. The rather low overall sensitivity and PPV of colposcopy in identifying HSIL, especially in case of a low-grade referral smear, indicate that the role of colposcopy in the detection and treatment of cervical abnormalities is to assess size, site, and extent of an abnormality, rather than to assess the severity of this abnormality. Histology must remain the gold standard for treatment.

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