Current cervical cancer screening practices are inefficient and not cost-effective, according to a new study led by a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researcher. Some women are tested too often, while others are underscreened, and follow-up for women with abnormal results is often poorly managed. This contributes to approximately 12,000 new cases and 4,000 deaths from cervical cancer annually, according to the researchers. But their findings showed that if screening guidelines were followed — Pap tests every three years for most women with adherence to follow-up and treatment — the health benefits would be significant and cost-effective.

The study was published online September 29 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Lead author Jane Kim, associate professor of health decision science, and colleagues used a disease simulation model based on four years of data from the New Mexico HPV Pap Registry, a surveillance unit at the University of New Mexico.

They found that screening women for cervical cancer every three years would lead to an 80.9% drop in cervical cancer incidence and an 86.7% drop in mortality compared with no screening.

“Our analysis indicates that we stand to gain the most health benefit by equalizing the screening rate for all eligible women and ensuring complete diagnostic follow-up and that we can make sizable investments toward these improvements,” the authors write.

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