Cervical cancer is the third most prevalent cancer in women around the world, and the fourth highest cause of women's cancer-related deaths.1 In the U.S., the advent of Pap testing has had a tremendous impact on cervical cancer rates—dropping it from the number 1 cause of death in women to number 14.2 Still, 4,220 women in the U.S. die of cervical cancer each year,2 even though it is a theoretically preventable disease.
The link between cervical cancer and human papillomavirus (HPV) has become clear over the past few decades—today we know that persistent infection with specific types of HPV account for nearly all cases of cervical cancer.2
Because cervical cancer rarely causes overt symptoms in its early stages—when treatment is most effective—screening for HPV infections at the greatest risk of progressing to cervical pre-cancer and cancer is imperative.
What is HPV?
The most commonly diagnosed sexually transmitted infection in the United States, HPV is most often spread through sexual intercourse, although it can be transmitted via nonpenetrative sexual activity as well.3
HPV is a small, double-stranded DNA virus that affects epithelial cells such as skin and mucous membranes. There are more than 100 HPV genotypes, about 30 of which are sexually transmitted. Most HPV strains are harmless. However, a handful of high-risk types, however, cause infections that can develop into cervical cancer.