Cervical cancer is a major cause of death, and the second most frequent cancer in women worldwide. Many studies have indicated a causal relation between genital human papillomavirus (HPV) infections and cervical cancer. High-risk HPV genotypes have been detected in almost 100% of all cervical cancers, and the process of HPV mediated carcinogenesis has been partly clarified. The concept that HPV is a obligatory cause in cervical cancer development has lead to extensive research regarding the incorporation of HPV detection in (1) cervical cancer prevention programs, (2) triage of women with abnormal cervical scrapes in the screening program, and (3) follow-up of patients treated for cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN).
Epidemiological studies indicate that 50% of women becoming sexually active contract a genital HPV infection within 2 years. The lifetime risk of a genital HPV infection is estimated to be 80%, but very few of these women will develop cervical cancer. Several studies have shown that the persistence of genital HPV infections is especially related to the development of cervical cancer. As a result, HPV detection at a single moment was shown to be of limited clinical value in the triage of patients with abnormal cervical scrapes, or during follow-up after treatment for CIN. Furthermore, major variations in the sensitivity of different HPV detection methods, as well as differences in HPV detection related to the menstrual cycle, have shown that many facts regarding HPV transmission, replication, and detection need to be clarified, before HPV detection can be of clinical value. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.