Quality Improvement to Demonstrate the Lack of Reliability of the Human Papillomavirus mRNA Assay to Identify Women With Latent Human Papillomavirus Infections

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OBJECTIVE:To assess the consistency between human papillomavirus (HPV) mRNA testing in women with a history of previous HPV infections diagnosed by HPV DNA assay and the potential effects on follow-up HPV screening.METHODS:This was a quality improvement study that used data from a pathology laboratory software database reviewed from November 2014 to June 2016 to identify female patients aged 30 years or older with greater than one HPV-positive result, including one or more HPV mRNA assay results and one or more documented HPV DNA assay results for comparison. Previous correlative cytology and colposcopic histopathology were also documented. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' cervical cancer screening guidelines were used to compare potential differences in follow-up recommendations.RESULTS:Four hundred twenty-five charts for female patients 30 years of age or older were identified with one or more prior high-risk HPV infections by DNA assay. There was a 69.3% difference in HPV mRNA results compared with previous HPV DNA–positive results. There was a potential change in follow-up for 71.7% of patients with one prior high-risk-HPV-positive result and 60.0% of patients with two or more prior high-risk HPV-positive results. There were 231 colposcopy reports evaluated in this study. Of these, 62 (26.8%) were abnormal colposcopy reports, including 45 low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions, 15 high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions, and two cancers. Twenty-five (40.3%) abnormal colposcopy findings were in patients with a history of at least than two prior HPV DNA–positive results and a report of currently being HPV-negative with the mRNA assay.CONCLUSION:The HPV mRNA assays are less sensitive for detection of latent HPV infections compared with HPV DNA assays. Based on these data and the potential change in follow-up care, the HPV mRNA assay should not be used for a primary screening tool for cervical cancer. Many pathology laboratories have shifted to using the HPV mRNA assay without clear discussion with gynecologists about the effects on patient follow-up. The type of HPV assay being used should be documented and any HPV mRNA result confirmed by HPV DNA assay.

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