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Original Contribution
June 27, 2001

Policy Analysis of Cervical Cancer Screening Strategies in Low-Resource Settings: Clinical Benefits and Cost-effectiveness

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: From the Department of Health Policy and Management Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Mass (Dr Goldie); Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Cape Town, South Africa (Dr Denny); Gertrude H. Sergievsky Center, College of Physicians and Surgeons, and Division of Epidemiology, Joseph L. Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, NY (Dr Kuhn); EngenderHealth, New York, NY, (Dr Pollack); Department of Pathology, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, New York, NY, (Dr Wright).

JAMA. 2001;285(24):3107-3115. doi:10.1001/jama.285.24.3107

Context Cervical cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related death among women in developing countries. In such low-resource settings, cytology-based screening is difficult to implement, and less complex strategies may offer additional options.

Objective To assess the cost-effectiveness of several cervical cancer screening strategies using population-specific data.

Design and Setting Cost-effectiveness analysis using a mathematical model and a hypothetical cohort of previously unscreened 30-year-old black South African women. Screening tests included direct visual inspection (DVI) of the cervix, cytologic methods, and testing for high-risk types of human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA. Strategies differed by number of clinical visits, screening frequency, and response to a positive test result. Data sources included a South African screening study, national surveys and fee schedules, and published literature.

Main Outcome Measures Years of life saved (YLS), lifetime costs in US dollars, and incremental cost-effectiveness ratios (cost per YLS).

Results When analyzing all strategies performed as a single lifetime screen at age 35 years compared with no screening, HPV testing followed by treatment of screen-positive women at a second visit, cost $39/YLS (27% cancer incidence reduction); DVI, coupled with immediate treatment of screen-positive women at the first visit was next most effective (26% cancer incidence reduction) and was cost saving; cytology, followed by treatment of screen-positive women at a second visit was least effective (19% cancer incidence reduction) at a cost of $81/YLS. For any given screening frequency, when strategies were compared incrementally, HPV DNA testing generally was more effective but also more costly than DVI, and always was more effective and less costly than cytology. When comparing all strategies simultaneously across screening frequencies, DVI was the nondominated strategy up to a frequency of every 3 years (incremental cost-effectiveness ratio, $460/YLS), and HPV testing every 3 years (incremental cost-effectiveness ratio, $11 500/YLS) was the most effective strategy.

Conclusion Cervical cancer screening strategies that incorporate DVI or HPV DNA testing and eliminate colposcopy may offer attractive alternatives to cytology-based screening programs in low-resource settings.