K. Syrjänen, L. Di Bonito, L. Gonçalves, L. Murjal, M. Santamaria, V. Mahovlic, P. Karakitsos, B. Önal and F. C. SchmittCervical cancer screening in Mediterranean countries: implications for the future
Prompted by feedback from the 34th European Congress of Cytology (ECC), the practice of including a special symposium in the programme was continued in the 35th ECC in Lisbon (2009) by arranging a satellite symposium entitled ‘Cervical Cancer Screening in the Mediterranean Countries’. Because of the importance to the future of this discipline, it was felt appropriate to summarize the highlights of this symposium here. Cervical cancer prevention strategies in the countries participating in the symposium (Portugal, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Greece and Turkey) appear to be highly variable. As yet, none of these countries can demonstrate a fully implemented national screening programme, but all are in different phases of designing and/or setting up such a programme, which is important. At present, the time-honoured concept of cervical cancer prevention by Pap smear screening is under review, because prophylactic human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines demonstrate a potential to prevent the vast majority (albeit not all) of cases of cervical cancer in the foreseeable future. Cervical cancer screening is still needed in this emerging era of HPV vaccination, but clearly the existing screening strategies must be modified to provide a cost-effective combination of vaccination and screening. If the currently evaluated new screening strategies, such as HPV testing followed by cytology triage, become a reality, there is the likelihood that the Pap test will have only a secondary role, subordinate to HPV testing. Supporters of this scenario claim that Pap test performance will deteriorate in vaccinated populations. Reduced positive predictive value (PPV), due to lower disease prevalence, is inevitable, however, and this would also affect HPV tests. Any decline in sensitivity and specificity depends on human performance, and as such is avoidable by taking appropriate preventive measures. As clinical cytologists, we should focus attention on minimizing the risk to the Pap test of falling sensitivity because of unfamiliarity with abnormal cells, and also of reduced specificity if the fear of missing significant disease leads to overcalling of benign abnormalities.