Incidence of oncogenic HPV infection in women with and without mental illness: A population-based cohort study in Sweden

PLoS Med. 2024 Mar 25;21(3):e1004372. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1004372. Online ahead of print.


Background: Women with mental illness experience an increased risk of cervical cancer. The excess risk is partly due to low participation in cervical screening; however, it remains unknown whether it is also attributable to an increased risk of infection with human papillomavirus (HPV). We aimed to examine whether women with mental illness had an increased infection rate of HPV compared to women without mental illness.

Methods and findings: Using a cohort design, we analyzed all 337,116 women aged 30 to 64 and living in Stockholm, who had a negative test result of 14 high-risk HPV subtypes in HPV-based screening, during August 2014 to December 2019. We defined women as exposed to mental illness if they had a specialist diagnosis of mental disorder or had a filled prescription of psychotropic medication. We identified incident infection of any high-risk HPV during follow-up and fitted multivariable Cox models to estimate hazard ratios (HR) with 95% confidence intervals (CI) for HPV infection. A total of 3,263 women were tested positive for high-risk HPV during follow-up (median: 2.21 years; range: 0 to 5.42 years). The absolute infection rate of HPV was higher among women with a specialist diagnosis of mental disorder (HR = 1.45; 95% CI [1.34, 1.57]; p < 0.001) or a filled prescription of psychotropic medication (HR = 1.67; 95% CI [1.55, 1.79]; p < 0.001), compared to women without such. The increment in absolute infection rate was noted for depression, anxiety, stress-related disorder, substance-related disorder, and ADHD, and for use of antidepressants, anxiolytics, sedatives, and hypnotics, and was consistent across age groups. The main limitations included selection of the female population in Stockholm as they must have at least 1 negative test result of HPV, and relatively short follow-up as HPV-based screening was only introduced in 2014 in Stockholm.

Conclusions: Mental illness is associated with an increased infection rate of high-risk HPV in women. Our findings motivate refined approaches to facilitate the WHO elimination agenda of cervical cancer among these marginalized women worldwide.