Risk of human papillomavirus infection in women with rheumatic disease: cervical cancer screening and prevention

Rheumatology (Oxford). 2018 Jul 1;57(suppl_5):v26-v33. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/kex523.


Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the USA, with over 14 million people acquiring HPV each year. HPV is also the cause of most anogenital cancers. About 90% of HPV infections spontaneously resolve over 3 years. However, about 10% remain as persistent infection defined as repeatedly detected in cervical samples. As HPV is controlled by local and systemic immune responses, individuals with immunosuppression are at risk for cervical cancer. It is hypothesized that immunosuppressed individuals are more likely to have HPV persistence, which is necessary for malignant transformation. Accordingly, women with rheumatic diseases such as SLE and RA are likely vulnerable to HPV infection and the progression of cervical disease. The HPV vaccine, given as a series of vaccinations, is safe and effective that can prevent HPV infection and cervical cancer. There is no contraindication to HPV vaccination for women to age 26 with rheumatic disease, as it is not live. As in the general population, timing is key for the efficacy of the HPV vaccine as the goal is to vaccinate prior to sexual debut and exposure to HPV. There are no formal recommendations for cervical cancer screening in women with rheumatic disease but recommendations for the HIV-positive population can be adopted, meaning to screen with a Pap test annually for three consecutive years and if all normal, to extend the interval to every 3 years with the option of co-testing with HPV at 30 years and older.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Early Detection of Cancer / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunocompromised Host*
  • Mass Screening / methods
  • Papillomaviridae*
  • Papillomavirus Infections / complications
  • Papillomavirus Infections / prevention & control*
  • Papillomavirus Infections / virology
  • Papillomavirus Vaccines / therapeutic use
  • Rheumatic Diseases / immunology*
  • Rheumatic Diseases / virology
  • Risk Factors
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / virology


  • Papillomavirus Vaccines