Impact of HPV infection in adolescent populations

Author(s): Moscicki AB


Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a significant source of morbidity and mortality worldwide. The primary risk factors for acquiring HPV are generally associated with sexual activity. Evidence suggests that condoms provide some protection against infection and disease progression, but any genital contact is sufficient for HPV transmission. HPV is so common and transmissible that having just one sexual partner often results in infection. Indeed, cumulative prevalence rates are as high as 82% among adolescent women in select populations. As such, nearly all sexually active adolescents are at high risk for acquiring HPV. Persistent infection with high-risk HPV types (e.g., HPV 16 or 18) is considered necessary for the development of cervical cancer, whereas infection with low-risk HPV types (e.g., HPV 6 or 11) is associated with the development of genital warts and other low-grade genital abnormalities. Most infections are asymptomatic and are efficiently cleared by the immune system. Similarly, both low- and high-grade lesions caused by HPV can regress in adolescent and young adult women. Treatment guidelines allow for observation of adolescent women who develop low-grade lesions rather than immediate colposcopy. Nonetheless, a small percentage of adolescents will develop precancerous lesions that may progress to invasive cervical cancer. Adolescents should be given appropriate education about HPV and the dangers associated with infection; they should also be encouraged to obtain appropriate gynecological care after initiating sexual activity. This article discusses HPV infection and the causal role that HPV plays in the development of low- and high-grade genital lesions, cervical cancer, and genital warts.

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