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Background: Cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer related death among women in developing countries. Cervical cancer is preceded by cervical surface epithelial cell abnormalities (ECA) which can be detected by Pap smear test. Simultaneous human papillomavirus and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection increases cervical cancer. Data on the prevalence and predictors of ECA among women in Ethiopia is limited. Hence, we aimed to determine the prevalence and associated factors of ECA among women.

Methods: A comparative cross-sectional study was conducted among HIV+ and HIV- women attending gynecological examination in cervical cancer screening center at the Debre Markos referral hospital. The study subjects were stratified by HIV status and systematic random sampling method was used to recruit study participants. Cervical smears were collected for Pap smear examination. Logistic regression analysis was employed to examine the possible risk factors of cervical ECA.

Results: A total of 197 HIV+ and 194 HIV- women were enrolled in the study. The overall prevalence of cervical ECA was 14.1 % of which the prevalence of atypical squamous cells undetermined significance (ASCUS), low grade squamous intraepithelial lesion (SIL), high grade SIL, squamous cell carcinoma and ASC, cannot exclude high grade SIL (ASCH) were 5.1, 3.8, 4.1 and 1.0 %, 0.0 % respectively. Significantly higher prevalence of ECA (17.8 %) was observed among HIV+ women (COR 1.9, 95 % CI: 1.1 − 3.4, p = 0.036) as compared to HIV-women (10.3 %). Multiple sexual partnership (AOR 3.2, 95 % CI: 1.1 − 10.0, p = 0.04), early ages of first sexual contact (<15 >years) (AOR 5.2, 95 % CI: 1.5 − 17.9, p = 0.009), parity greater than three (AOR 10.9, 95 % CI: 4.2 − 16.8, p < 0.001) and long term oral contraceptive pills (OCP) use (AOR 11.9, 95 % CI: 2.1 − 16.7, p = 0.02) were significant predictors of prevalence of ECA.

Conclusions: Cervical ECA is a major problem among HIV-infected women. Lower CD4+ T-cell counts of below 350 cells/μl, HIV infection, multiple sexual partnership, early age at first sexual contact, parity greater than three and long term OCP use were significant predictors of prevalence of ECA. Strengthening screening program in HIV+ women should be considered.

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Originally published in BMC Clinical Pathology, 15 [Article 16]. Licensed under CC BY 4.0. doi:10.1186/s12907-015-0016-2