Introduction: Academic research has made a significant advancement in understanding the viral causes of cervical cancer and generating the technology for prevention, both at the primary and secondary levels. Human papillomaviruses (HPVs) have been recognized as the first necessary cause of cervical cancer, the second most common cancer in women worldwide.
Areas covered: This paper reviews the epidemiological evidence of the causality of HPV in relation to cervical cancer, other genital tract cancers and some cancers of the oral cavity and oropharynx. The review also covers HPV DNA testing as a screening tool. DNA probes of high-risk HPV types in different formats have been fully validated as primary screening tests, as secondary triage tests and as a prognostic marker following treatment of high grade squamous intraepithelial lesions (HSIL). They consistently showed significant superiority over the conventional Pap smears. Biomarkers of the activation of oncogenes (HPV mRNA, p16 and other) are being tested as screening options to improve in sensitivity and specificity, with promising results. HPV vaccines against the two most common HPV types in cancer have completed their Phase III trials with excellent results in efficacy and safety. Combined strategies of HPV vaccination and HPV-based screening tests could theoretically control cervical cancer in any population in which a large coverage with both preventive options is ensured. Accessibility of developing countries to vaccination and low-cost HPV screening options are the barriers to overcome at present.
Expert opinion: This paper provides a synthesis of the evidence available supporting the novel paradigm for cervical cancer prevention that has reached a large consensus within the mainstream HPV and cervical cancer prevention research communities. The available technology for prevention and its developments allows real opportunities for cervical cancer elimination in defined populations to be foreseen.