Exposure Definition in Case–Control Studies of Cervical Cancer Screening: A Systematic Literature Review

Alejandra Castanon*, Aruna Kamineni, K. Miriam Elfstrom, Anita W.W. Lim, Peter Sasieni

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


The first step in evaluating the effectiveness of cervical screening is defining exposure to screening. Our aim was to describe the spectrum of screening exposure definitions used in studies of the effectiveness of cervical screening. This systematic review included case-control studies in a population-based screening setting. Outcome was incidence of cervical cancer. Three electronic databases were searched from January 1, 2012 to December 6, 2018. Articles prior to 2012 were identified from a previous review. The qualitative synthesis focused on describing screening exposure definitions reported in the literature and the methodologic differences that could have an impact on the association between screening and cervical cancer. Forty-one case–control studies were included. Six screening exposure definitions were identified. Cervical cancer risk on average decreased by 66% when screening exposure was defined as ever tested, by 77% by time since last negative test, and by 79% after two or more previous tests. Methodologic differences included composition of the reference group and whether diagnostic and/or symptomatic tests were excluded from the analysis. Consensus guidelines to standardize exposure definitions are needed to ensure evaluations of cervical cancer screening can accurately measure the impact of transitioning from cytology to human papillomavirus–based screening and to allow comparisons between programs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2154-2166
Number of pages13
JournalCancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


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