Neither one-time negative screening tests nor negative colposcopy provides absolute reassurance against cervical cancer



A population sample of 10,049 women living in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, was recruited into a natural history of human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical neoplasia study in 1993–1994. At the enrollment visit, we applied multiple state-of-the-art cervical cancer screening methods to detect prevalent cervical cancer and to prevent subsequent cervical cancers by the timely detection and treatment of precancerous lesions. Women were screened at enrollment with 3 kinds of cytology (often reviewed by more than one pathologist), visual inspection and cervicography. Any positive screening test led to colposcopic referral and biopsy and/or excisional treatment of CIN2 or worse. We retrospectively tested stored specimens with an early HPV test (hybrid capture tube test) and for >40 HPV genotypes using a research PCR assay. We followed women typically 5–7 years and some up to 11 years. Nonetheless, 16 cases of invasive cervical cancer were diagnosed during follow-up. Six cancer cases were failures at enrollment to detect abnormalities by cytology screening; 3 of the 6 were also negative at enrollment by sensitive HPV DNA testing. Seven cancers represent failures of colposcopy to diagnose cancer or a precancerous lesion in screen-positive women. Finally, 3 cases arose despite attempted excisional treatment of precancerous lesions. Based on this evidence, we suggest that no current secondary cervical cancer prevention technologies applied once in a previously under-screened population is likely to be 100% efficacious in preventing incident diagnoses of invasive cervical cancer. © 2009 UICC