Why does cervical cancer occur in a state-of-the-art screening program?

Philip E. Castle, Walter K. Kinney, Li C. Cheung, Julia C. Gage, Barbara Fetterman, Nancy E. Poitras, Thomas S. Lorey, Nicolas Wentzensen, Brian Befano, John Schussler, Hormuzd A. Katki, Mark Schiffman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Background The goal of cervical screening is to detect and treat precancers before some become cancer. We wanted to understand why, despite state-of-the-art methods, cervical cancers occured in relationship to programmatic performance at Kaiser Permanente Northern California (KPNC), where > 1,000,000 women aged ≥ 30 years have undergone cervical cancer screening by triennial HPV and cytology cotesting since 2003. Methods We reviewed clinical histories preceding cervical cancer diagnoses to assign “causes” of cancer. We calculated surrogate measures of programmatic effectiveness (precancers/(precancers and cancers)) and diagnostic yield (precancers and cancers per 1000 cotests), overall and by age at cotest (30–39, 40–49, and ≥ 50 years). Results Cancer was rare and found mainly in a localized (treatable) stage. Of 623 cervical cancers with at least one preceding or concurrent cotest, 360 (57.8%) were judged to be prevalent (diagnosed at a localized stage within one year or regional/distant stage within two years of the first cotest). Non-compliance with recommended screening and management preceded 9.0% of all cancers. False-negative cotests/sampling errors (HPV and cytology negative), false-negative histologic diagnoses, and treatment failures preceded 11.2%, 9.0%, and 4.3%, respectively, of all cancers. There was significant heterogeneity in the causes of cancer by histologic category (p < 0.001 for all; p = 0.002 excluding prevalent cases). Programmatic effectiveness (95.3%) and diagnostic yield were greater for squamous cell versus adenocarcinoma histology (p < 0.0001) and both decreased with older ages (ptrend < 0.0001). Conclusions A state-of-the-art intensive screening program results in very few cervical cancers, most of which are detected early by screening. Screening may become less efficient at older ages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)546-553
Number of pages8
JournalGynecologic Oncology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2017


  • CIN3
  • Cervical cancer
  • Cotesting
  • Cytology
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Precancer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


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