Background: The clinical significance of co-infections with high-risk (HR) and low-risk (LR) human papillomavirus (HPV) in the etiology of cervical cancer is debated, as prospective evidence on this issue is limited. However, the question is of increasing relevance in relation to HPV-based cancer prevention.
Methods: In two population-based nested case-control studies among women participating in cervical screening with baseline normal smears, we collected 4659 smears from women who later developed cancer in situ (CIS; n = 524) or squamous cervical cancer (SCC; n = 378) and individually matched control subjects who remained free of disease during study follow-up. The median follow-up until diagnosis was 6.4 to 7.8 years. All smears were tested for HPV. We used conditional logistic regression models with two-way interaction terms to estimate relative risks (RRs) for CIS and SCC, respectively. All statistical tests were two-sided.
Results: Compared with women who were infected with HRHPV only, women who were also infected with LRHPV had a lower risk for SCC (RR = 0.2, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.04 to 0.99, P = .049). This interaction was not shown for CIS (RR = 1.1, 95% CI = 0.4 to 3.6). Women who were positive for both HRHPV and LRHPV had, on average, a 4.8 year longer time to diagnosis of SCC than women who were positive for HRHPV only (P = .006). Results were highly robust in sensitivity analyses.
Conclusion: Co-infection with LRHPV is associated with a lower risk of future invasive disease and longer time to diagnosis than infection with HRHPV alone. We propose that co-infection with LRHPV interferes with the rate of progression to invasive cervical cancer.
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