Cervical Cancer Prevention for All the World's Women: Genuine Promise Resides in Skilled Quality Management Rather Than Novel Screening Approaches

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The debate over the best route for cervical cancer prevention in developing countries may be considered part of a larger debate over whether the global health community has become enamored with the promise of new approaches at the expense of delivering available preventives today. Pap screening, which is feasible anywhere cervical screening is appropriate, is the only intervention currently available for the prevention of cervical cancer in developing countries, and the Pap test will be an essential component of future novel preventive approaches. Cervical cancer vaccination, the long-term effectiveness of which is uncertain, will not eliminate screening requirements and is currently not affordable in developing countries. Root cause analyses, which may appropriately inform the best routes for improving health in developing countries, document that failures of cervical cancer prevention efforts are not attributable to factors specific to the Pap test but to lapses in programmatic quality management to which all screening tests are vulnerable. The genuine promise of cervical cancer prevention for all the world's women therefore resides in skilled quality management rather than novel screening approaches. We propose a global consensus policy by which Pap screening services will be provided in any setting where cervical screening is appropriate but unavailable, with consideration given to novel preventive approaches as they mature. Opportunity costs, borne by the underserved, are associated with prioritizing research on new approaches in any setting where established preventives are feasible but unavailable.

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