Design Multicentre individually randomised controlled trial, nested within the NHS cervical screening programmes.
Setting Grampian, Tayside, and Nottingham.
Participants 1983 women, aged 20-59, with cytology showing borderline nuclear abnormalities or mild dyskaryosis, October 1999-October 2002.
Interventions Immediate large loop excision or up to four targeted punch biopsies taken immediately with recall for treatment (by large loop excision) if these showed cervical intraepithelial neoplasia grade II or III or worse. Participants were followed for three years, concluding with an exit colposcopy.
Main outcome measures Clinical end points: cumulative incidence of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia grade II or worse and grade III or worse at three years. Clinically significant anxiety and depression and self reported after effects assessed six weeks after colposcopy, biopsies, or large loop excision.
Results 879 women (44%) had a normal transformation zone at colposcopy and had no further procedures at that time. Colposcopists were less likely to classify the transformation zone as abnormal when the allocation was large loop excision (603 (60%) in the biopsy and selective recall group; 501 (51%) in the immediate large loop excision group). Of women randomised to biopsy and recall, 157 (16%) required a second clinic visit for treatment. Specimens from almost 60% (n=296) of women who underwent immediate large loop excision showed no cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (31%; n=156) or showed cervical intraepithelial neoplasia grade I (28%; n=140). The percentages of women diagnosed with grade II or worse up to and including the exit examination were 22% (n=216) in the biopsy and recall arm and 23% (n=228) in the immediate large loop excision arm. There was no significant difference between the arms in cumulative incidence of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia grade II or worse (adjusted relative for risk large loop excision v biopsy 1.04, 95% confidence interval 0.86 to 1.25) or grade III or worse (1.03, 0.79 to 1.34). A greater proportion of disease was detected at initial investigation and less during follow-up and at exit in the immediate large loop excision arm, but time of detection did not differ significantly between arms. Levels of anxiety and depression and reported pain did not differ between arms. Higher proportions of women randomised to large loop excision reported moderate or more severe bleeding and discharge.
Conclusion A policy of targeted punch biopsies with subsequent treatment for cervical intraepithelial neoplasia grade II or III and cytological surveillance for grade I or less provides the best balance between benefits and harms for the management of women with low grade abnormal cytology referred for colposcopy. Immediate large loop excision results in overtreatment and more after effects and should not be recommended.
Trial Registration ISRCTN 34841617.
- squamous intraepithelial lesions
- directed punch biopsy
- treatment too soon
- transformation zone