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Lancet. 2006 Jan 14;367(9505):122-32.

Effect of study design and quality on unsatisfactory rates, cytology classifications, and accuracy in liquid-based versus conventional cervical cytology: a systematic review.

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  • 1Screening and Test Evaluation Program, School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Australia.



Liquid-based cytology is reported to increase the sensitivity of cervical cytology and the proportion of slides that are satisfactory for assessment, in comparison with conventional cytology. Although some countries have changed to liquid-based cytology for cervical screening, controversy remains. We reviewed the published work to assess the performance of liquid-based cytology relative to conventional cytology in primary studies assessed to be of low, medium, or high methodological quality.


56 primary studies were reviewed and assessed with strict methodological criteria. Liquid-based cytology and conventional cytology were compared in terms of the percentage of slides classified as unsatisfactory, the percentage of slides classified in each cytology category, and the accuracy of detection of high-grade disease. Data were examined for studies overall and in strata to examine the effect of study quality on results.


The median difference in the percentage of unsatisfactory slides between liquid-based cytology and conventional cytology was 0.17%. Only one small study was a randomised controlled trial. The classification of high-grade squamous epithelial lesion varied according to study quality (p=0.04), with conventional cytology classifying more slides in this category than did liquid-based cytology in high-quality studies (n=3) only. In medium-quality (n=30) and high-quality studies, liquid-based cytology classified more slides as atypical squamous cells of unknown significance than did conventional cytology when compared with low-quality studies (n=17; p=0.05). Only four studies provided sufficient verified data to allow estimation of sensitivity and specificity and comparison of test accuracy.


We saw no evidence that liquid-based cytology reduced the proportion of unsatisfactory slides, or detected more high-grade lesions in high-quality studies, than conventional cytology. This review does not lend support to claims of better performance by liquid-based cytology. Large randomised controlled trials are needed.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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