• cervical cancer screening;
  • laboratory guidelines;
  • cervical cytopathology terminology;
  • human papillomavirus testing;
  • HPV triage;
  • test of cure

J. H. F. Smith

ABC3 Part I: a review of the guidelines for terminology, classification and management of cervical cytology in England

The provision of guidance on cytology reporting and evaluation, first outlined in 1995 with the publication of Achievable Standards, Benchmarks for Reporting, and Criteria for Evaluating Cervical Cytopathology (ABC), and subsequently revised and expanded in a second edition in 2000, has been pivotal to the success of the National Health Service Cervical Screening Programme (NHSCSP), ensuring that standards are upheld, and that rigorous evaluation and quality assurance take place.

In the last decade, major changes to the NHSCSP, notably the adoption of revised age ranges and screening intervals for all women in England, implementation of liquid-based cytology and, most recently, the decision to introduce high-risk human papillomavirus (HR-HPV) testing for triage of low-grade and borderline (equivalent to 'atypical') cytological abnormalities and test of cure after treatment of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) determined that an updated version of ABC was required.

The third edition of ABC recommends adoption, with minor modification, of the revised British Society for Clinical Cytology terminology and provides guidance on the management of abnormal cytology results linked to this terminology taking account of HR-HPV testing. To accommodate these changes, expanded result codes, which are electronic codes used to transfer management information to central computers for follow-up, call and recall of individual women, have been developed. Further guidance on specimen adequacy is also provided. Revised performance indicators are described and explained in a separate article by R. Blanks in this issue of Cytopathology.

All the changes in ABC3 are designed to support the mission statement of the NHSCSP that ‘the objective of cervical screening is to reduce cervical cancer incidence and mortality by screening with a high sensitivity for the detection of CIN2 or worse, whilst maintaining a high specificity’.