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In Infectious agents and cancer

Background : We propose an economical cervical screening research and implementation strategy designed to take into account the typically slow natural history of cervical cancer and the severe but hopefully temporary impact of COVID-19. The commentary introduces the practical validation of some critical components of the strategy, described in three manuscripts detailing recent project results in Asia and Africa.The main phases of a cervical screening program are 1) primary screening of women in the general population, 2) triage testing of the small minority of women that screen positive to determine need for treatment, and 3) treatment of triage-positive women thought to be at highest risk of precancer or even cancer. In each phase, attention must now be paid to safety in relation to SARS-CoV-2 transmission. The new imperatives of the COVID-19 pandemic support self-sampled HPV testing as the primary cervical screening method. Most women can be reassured for several years by a negative test performed on a self-sample collected at home, without need of clinic visit and speculum examination. The advent of relatively inexpensive, rapid and accurate HPV DNA testing makes it possible to return screening results from self-sampling very soon after specimen collection, minimizing loss to follow-up. Partial HPV typing provides important risk stratification useful for triage of HPV-positive women. A second "triage" test is often useful to guide management. In lower-resource settings, visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA) is still proposed but it is inaccurate and poorly reproducible, misclassifying the risk stratification gained by primary HPV testing. A deep-learning based approach to recognizing cervical precancer, adaptable to a smartphone camera, is being validated to improve VIA performance. The advent and approval of thermal ablation permits quick, affordable and safe, immediate treatment at the triage clinic of the majority of HPV-positive, triage-positive women.

Conclusions : Overall, only a small percentage of women in cervical screening programs need to attend the hospital clinic for a surgical procedure, particularly when screening is targeted to the optimal age range for detection of precancer rather than older ages with decreased visual screening performance and higher risks of hard-to-treat outcomes including invasive cancer.

Ajenifuja Kayode Olusegun, Belinson Jerome, Goldstein Andrew, Desai Kanan T, de Sanjose Silvia, Schiffman Mark


COVID-19, Cervical screening, HPV, Self-sampling, Triage