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Pathology. 2002 Jun;34(3):213-24.

Human papillomavirus update with a particular focus on cervical disease.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, The Royal Women's and The Royal Children's Hospitals, Women's and Children's Health, Carlton, Victoria, Australia.


Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common viral infection of squamous epithelial tissues, but its importance has only recently been recognised by the medical community. HPVs are now realised to consist of many genotypes and are associated with a diverse spectrum of clinical manifestations. Within the genital tract, some diseases have been recognised since antiquity; for example, genital warts which are caused by HPV types distinct from those causing genital cancer. However, others (such as cervical cancer), although recognised centuries ago as linked to sexual activity, have only been associated with oncogenic HPVs relatively recently, with the tools of molecular biology. We now understand that genital HPV infections are the most common sexually transmitted viral infections, are largely transient, asymptomatic and of no consequence. This virus manifests as more than just benign warts. Chronic carriage of with oncogenic genotypes (over years and in a minority of patients), together with other cofactors (host and/or exogenous) in complex pathways not totally understood, result in severe dysplasia or, ultimately, carcinogenesis. As it takes time for precursor lesions to develop and there are effective screening programmes for their detection and treatment, HPV-related neoplastic disease of the cervix is largely a preventable reproductive health issue of women. Yet, on a global scale, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer of women, with the majority of cases occurring in developing countries. Although HPV is noncultivatable by traditional diagnostic virological methods, successfully applied molecular biology techniques have underpinned development of vaccines which are now in phase II/III clinical trials. Successful vaccination ultimately has the greatest potential to impact upon the global burden of disease from genital HPV infection. However, the outcome from reduction in incidence of dysplasia and neoplasia will take years to eventuate; consequently, various cervical cancer prevention strategies still need to be endorsed and maintained in the meantime.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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