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HPV & Cervical Cancer

  • Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus (womb), which opens into the vagina.
  • The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2006, about 9,700 women in the United States will develop cervical cancer and about 3,700 will die from it.
  • Cervical cancer kills 288,000 women annually worldwide. It is the second-most- common type of cancer that affects women - behind only breast cancer.
  • Cervical cancer is the only cancer with a single known cause - the human papillomavirus (HPV).
  • HPV is a very common sexually transmitted infection (STI). It is estimated that 80 percent of women will have one or more types of the virus at some time by the age of 50.
  • There are more than 100 strains of HPV. Of these, about 13 high-risk types are known to cause nearly all cases of cervical cancer. Two of these types (16 and 18) are believed to cause 70 percent of these cases.
  • Although HPV is very common, cervical cancer is not. In most cases, the body's immune system fights off or suppresses the virus before it causes cancer or any other problems. It's only when infection with high-risk types of HPV persists that the risk of developing dysplasia (pre-cancerous cells) and cervical cancer increases significantly.
  • There is evidence that other factors may increase the risk of cervical cancer when combined with HPV, including smoking and illnesses that reduce the body's ability to fight off infections (such as HIV/AIDS).
  • HPV cannot be treated, which makes early detection of abnormal cells essential.
  • A Pap test, the only detection method for nearly 60 years, fails to identify between 15 percent and 49 percent of women with abnormal cells before they become invasive cervical cancer. 
  • A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that one-third of all cervical cancer cases are due to Pap-detection failure.
  • The Digene® HPV Test was approved by the FDA in 2003 for cervical cancer screening, in conjunction with the Pap, for women age 30 or older (those most at risk for cervical cancer). It is the only FDA-approved HPV test currently available. With this combination approach, the ability to identify women at risk is nearly 100 percent - thus allowing treatment if necessary before abnormal cell changes become more serious.
  • A comprehensive approach that combines HPV and Pap testing with the new vaccine that prevents infection with two high-risk types of HPV could make cervical cancer the first malignancy that is actually eliminated.
  • Girls and young women who are not yet sexually active will benefit most from the new HPV vaccine. However, because the vaccine targets just two of more than a dozen types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer, that protection won't be complete if they are not also screened regularly when they are older.

  • For mature women - those who are already sexually active and thus likely have been exposed to the targeted types of HPV - the data available today do not indicate any substantial benefit from the vaccine. That means that for the vast majority of women today, and for many in the future, regular screening is their first and primary weapon against this disease.

For more information about cervical cancer and HPV, click here.

Created: 7/6/2006  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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