Periodic Health Examination, 1995 Update: 1. Screening for Human Papillomavirus Infection in Asymptomatic Women

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ObjectiveTo develop recommendations for practising physicians on the advisability of screening for human papillomavirus (HPV) infection in asymptomatic women.OptionsVisual inspection, Papanicolaou testing, colposcopy or cervicography, use of HPV group- specific antigen, DNA hybridization, dot blot technique, Southern blot technique or polymerase chain reaction followed by physical or chemical therapeutic intervention.OutcomesEvidence for a link between HPV infection and cervical cancer, sensitivity and specificity of HPV screening techniques, effectiveness of treatments for HPV infection, and the social and economic costs incurred by screening.EvidenceMEDLINE was searched for articles published between January 1966 to June 1993 with the use of the key words "papillomavirus," "cervix neoplasms," "mass screening," "prospective studies," "prevalence," "sensitivity," "specificity," "human" and "female."ValuesProven cost-effective screening techniques that could lead to decreased morbidity or mortality were given a high value. The evidence-based methods and values of the Canadian Task Force on the Periodic Health Examination were used.Benefits, harms and costsPotential benefits are to prevent cervical cancer and eliminate HPV infection. Potential harmful effects include the creation of an unnecessary burden on the health care system and the labelling of otherwise healthy people as patients with a sexually transmitted disease for which therapy is generally ineffective. Potential costs would include expense of testing, increased use of colposcopy and treatment.RecommendationsThere is fair evidence to exclude HPV screening (beyond Papanicolaou testing for cervical cancer) in asymptomatic women (grade D recommendation).ValidationThe report was reviewed by members of the task force and three external reviewers who were selected to represent different areas of expertise.SponsorsThese guidelines were developed and endorsed by the task force, which is funded by Health Canada and the National Health Research and Development Program. The principal author (K.J.) was supported in part by the National Health Research and Development Program through a National Health Fellowship (AIDS).

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