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WHO/N. Lkhagvasuren
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common viral infection of the reproductive tract.
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Human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer

24 January 2019

Key facts

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of viruses that are extremely common worldwide.
  • There are more than 100 types of HPV, of which at least 14 are cancer-causing (also known as high risk type).
  • HPV is mainly transmitted through sexual contact and most people are infected with HPV shortly after the onset of sexual activity.
  • Cervical cancer is caused by sexually acquired infection with certain types of HPV.
  • Two HPV types (16 and 18) cause 70% of cervical cancers and pre-cancerous cervical lesions.
  • There is also evidence linking HPV with cancers of the anus, vulva, vagina, penis and oropharynx.
  • Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women living in less developed regions with an estimated 570 000 new cases (1) in 2018 (84% of the new cases worldwide).
  • In 2018, approximately 311 000 women died from cervical cancer; more than 85% of these deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Comprehensive cervical cancer control includes primary prevention (vaccination against HPV), secondary prevention (screening and treatment of pre-cancerous lesions), tertiary prevention (diagnosis and treatment of invasive cervical cancer) and palliative care.
  • Vaccines that protect against HPV 16 and 18 are recommended by WHO and have been approved for use in many countries.
  • Screening and treatment of pre-cancer lesions in women of 30 years and more is a cost-effective way to prevent cervical cancer.
  • Clinical trials and post-marketing surveillance have shown that HPV vaccines are very safe and very effective in preventing infections with HPV infections.
  • Cervical cancer can be cured if diagnosed at an early stage.

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