HIV increases women’s risk for high-risk human papillomavirus (hrHPV) infection and invasive
cervical cancer. South Africa has a high HIV prevalence but low cervical cancer screening
coverage. Self-collection of cervical specimens and hrHPV testing, including hrHPV
messenger-RNA (mRNA) testing, are methods aimed at increasing screening rates. However,
data are limited on the acceptability and accuracy of tampon-based self-collection for
hrHPV mRNA testing in HIV-infected women.
We recruited 325 HIV-infected women seeking care at a government HIV clinic in Pretoria,
South Africa. A clinician performed a pelvic examination and obtained an endocervical
specimen. Study participants performed self-collection using a tampon. Both clinician- and
self-collected specimens were tested for hrHPV mRNA. Acceptability of both collection
methods was assessed, the prevalence of hrHPV mRNA in our study population was estimated,
test positivity of the two collection methods were compared, and test agreement
was assessed by calculating the κ-statistic, sensitivity, and specificity.
Over 90% of women reported no difficulties self-collecting specimens and 82% were willing
to perform the tampon-collection at home. Based on clinician-collection specimens, the prevalence of hrHPV mRNA in our study population was 36.7% (95% CI: 31.4%– 42.0%). There was no difference in test positivity between clinician-collection, 36.7%, and tamponcollection,
43.5% (p-value = 0.08). Using clinician-collection as the reference test, the sensitivity
and specificity for hrHPV mRNA of tampon-collection were 77.4%(95% CI: 69.8–
85.0%) and 77.8% (95% CI: 71.9–83.6%), respectively.
Tampon-based self-collection is acceptable to women and has similar hrHPV mRNA positivity
rates as clinician-collection, but has reduced sensitivity and specificity compared to clinician-
collection. The hrHPV mRNA prevalence in our study population is high, but similar
to other high-risk populations, and highlights the need for improved cervical cancer screening.
Further research into the optimal use of tampon-based collection as a cervical cancer
screening tool is warranted.