Prevalence of HPV & Cervical cancer
Worldwide, every two minutes a woman dies of cervical cancer. Globally, cancer of the cervix is the second most prevalent cancer in women, causing nearly 500,000 new cases per year, and the third leading cause of female cancer deaths after breast and lung cancer (Ferlay et al 2004).
There are over 100 types of human papillomavirus (HPV), of which 30-40 can infect mucosal tissue. The others cause a variety of non-genital conditions, such as plantar warts (Wilson 2001; Burd 2003; von Krogh 2001). Of the types that can infect mucosal tissue, there are low-risk HPV types that can cause benign, low-grade lesions on the cervical surface or genital warts (which rarely progress to cancer). More importantly, there are over 15 oncogenic types that have been directly linked to cervical cancer (Bosch et al 2002; Schiller and Davies 2004; Muñoz et al 2003). Of these oncogenic HPV types, HPV 16 and 18 are the most important and are found in over 70% of cervical cancers globally (Muñoz et al 2004).
HPV is a very common and easily transmittable virus. The risk of contracting HPV starts with the first sexual encounter and lasts throughout a woman’s sexually active life. Infection does not require full penetrative intercourse, as skin-to-skin contact in the genital area is enough to spread the infection. Condoms do not fully protect from cervical cancer (Schiffman and Kjaer 2003; Burd 2003).
Virtually all cases of cervical cancer are associated with HPV infection (Bosch et al 2002).
Prevention and treatment
Given the significant burden associated with cervical cancer, prevention and treatment strategies are critical (Franceschi 2005; Franco et al 2001). Proper screening requires well-organised acquisition of cervical samples at regular intervals (Sankaranarayanan et al 2005). This identifies abnormal cells on the cervix, which can be removed, if treatment is necessary.
Cervical screening is currently the only strategy for early detection of cervical abnormalities and HPV infections.
Last Updated 10-03-2015