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Anal cytology screening in HIV-positive men who have sex with men: what's new and what's now?

Ho, Kenneth S; Cranston, Ross D

Current Opinion in Infectious Diseases:
doi: 10.1097/QCO.0b013e328334fe5a
HIV infection and AIDS: Edited by Martin Fisher

Purpose of review: This review will discuss current and future anal cytology screening programs to detect anal dysplasia in HIV-positive men who have sex with men (MSM), in addition to other interventions aimed at early detection of anal cancer in this population.

Recent findings: Evidence of progression from high-grade anal dysplasia to anal cancer has been recently demonstrated and strengthens the clinical imperative to diagnose and treat this lesion in at-risk populations. The use of adjunct molecular techniques that improve specificity of anal cytology screening may have the potential to rationalize current screening referral pathways and focus resources on those at highest risk of progressing to cancer. Candidate biomarkers that are currently being investigated include protein surrogates of cell cycle deregulation (such as p16ink4a and minichromosomal maintenance proteins), DNA damage biomarkers (53BP1) in addition to testing for human papillomavirus genotype, gamma tubulin and beta defensin levels.

Summary: Anal cytology, although sensitive for the detection of any anal dysplastic abnormality, has poor specificity to detect high-grade anal dysplasia. As new molecular techniques are evolving, the most important immediate clinical intervention is to educate HIV-positive MSM in order to increase awareness of both risk and clinical symptoms suggestive of progression to anal cancer. In the absence of high-resolution anoscopic expertise, it is recommended that regular digital rectal examinations are performed as most early cancers are palpable even in the absence of clinical symptoms.

Author Information

Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

Correspondence to Ross D. Cranston, MD, FRCP, Assistant Professor, Director Anal Dysplasia Clinic and Research Program, Falk Medical Building, Suite 611, 3601 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA Tel: +1 412 647 6710; fax: +1 412 647 5519; e-mail:

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.