A common clinical dilemma: Management of abnormal vaginal cytology and human papillomavirus test results

Michelle J. Khan, L. Stewart Massad, Walter Kinney, Michael A. Gold, E. J. Mayeaux, Teresa M. Darragh, Philip E. Castle, David Chelmow, Herschel W. Lawson, Warner K. Huh

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Objective Vaginal cancer is an uncommon cancer of the lower genital tract, and standardized screening is not recommended. Risk factors for vaginal cancer include a history of other lower genital tract neoplasia or cancer, smoking, immunosuppression, and exposure to diethylstilbestrol in utero. Although cervical cancer screening after total hysterectomy for benign disease is not recommended, many women inappropriately undergo vaginal cytology and/or human papillomavirus (hrHPV) tests, and clinicians are faced with managing their abnormal results. Our objective is to review the literature on vaginal cytology and hrHPV testing and to develop guidance for the management of abnormal vaginal screening tests. Methods An electronic search of the PubMed database through 2015 was performed. Articles describing vaginal cytology or vaginal hrHPV testing were reviewed, and diagnostic accuracy of these tests when available was noted. Results The available literature was too limited to develop evidence-based recommendations for managing abnormal vaginal cytology and hrHPV screening tests. However, the data did show that 1) the risk of vaginal cancer in women after hysterectomy is extremely low, justifying the recommendation against routine screening, and 2) in women for whom surveillance is recommended, e.g. women post-treatment for cervical precancer or cancer, hrHPV testing may be useful in identification of vaginal cancer precursors. Conclusion Vaginal cancer is rare, and asymptomatic low-risk women should not be screened. An algorithm based on expert opinion is proposed for managing women with abnormal vaginal test results.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)364-370
Number of pages7
JournalGynecologic Oncology
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • HPV
  • VaIN
  • Vaginal cancer
  • Vaginal cytology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


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