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Introduction: HPV and Cervical Cancer

Nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by infection with oncogenic, or high-risk, types of HPV (HR-HPV). Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women. Worldwide, there are about 450,000 new cases each year; approximately 200,000 women die from cervical cancer yearly.

The HPV infection can linger for years in cervical cells and eventually convert normal cells into malignant cells. Cervical cancer occurs when a HR-HPV infection is not naturally resolved or cleared by the immune system. Approximately 10% of women with a HR-HPV infection develop these lingering infection complications.

HPV is a frequently occurring, viral, sexually transmitted infection (STI). HPV infections often present with mild signs and symptoms or are asymptomatic and do not always progress to a disease state. Since HPV infections are so common, the CDC believes that most sexually active adults are infected at some point during their lifetime. Infections with these sexually transmitted viruses also may cause anal cancers as well as many vaginal, vulvar, and penile cancers. Some oropharyngeal cancers may also be caused by HPV. Although the majority of HPV infections are transient and do not result in serious disease, clinicians are concerned about the HPV infections that cause cervical and other anogenital carcinomas.
Diagnosis and management of HPV has changed dramatically with the introduction of DNA methods for diagnosis of HPV infections and vaccines for the prevention of HPV infections. Understanding HPV characteristics and diagnostic testing is important for clinical laboratory scientists.