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Cytopathology. 1996 Jun;7(3):151-8.

Estimating the sensitivity of cervical cytology: errors of interpretation and test limitations.

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Department of Oncology, USL TO I, Torino, Italy.


The objective of this study was to estimate: (i) the sensitivity of cytologists in recognizing abnormal smears; (ii) the sensitivity of cervical cytology as a method of detecting abnormal smears among those obtained in the presence of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN). Study subjects were 61 women with a histologically confirmed CIN identified through colpohistological and cytologic screening. For objective (i) new smears were taken from study subjects just before treatment, mixed with routine preparations, interpreted by unaware cytologists and then blindly reviewed by a group of three expert supervisors, who reached a consensus diagnosis. Cytologists classified as positive for squamous intraepithelial lesion (SIL) 30 of the 34 smears judged as positive by supervisors (100% of smears classified as high-grade and 67% of smears classified as low-grade SIL by the supervisors). Our approach, based on creating a set of smears with a high a priori probability of being positive, proved to be an efficient way of estimating errors of interpretation. For objective (ii), smears taken at the moment of diagnosis, just before biopsy, were also reviewed by the same supervisors. These CIN cases were identified among asymptomatic women independently of cytological findings and results are therefore not subject to verification bias. Among the 33 histological CINII/III, four (12%) smears had no atypical cells (three negatives and one unsatisfactory) at review. The same proportion was 26% (four negatives and one unsatisfactory) among the 19 histological CINI. No significant differences in smear content were found between the seven 'false negatives' and a sample of 'true positive' and 'true negatives' for a number of formal adequacy criteria (including presence of endocervical cells). Strong differences were found between positive smears taken just before biopsy and those taken just before treatment (in 11 women the first smear only was positive, while the opposite was never observed), suggesting an effect of punch biopsy in removing lesions.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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