HPVs are the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the world today, with over 40 types that can infect the human genital tract. The vast majority of HPV infections (>90%) are benign and cause no symptoms; however, HPV infection is a necessary cause of invasive cervical cancer. Many HPV types infecting the genital tract have been detected in the mouth and throat and are associated with some head and neck cancers. Similarly HPV infections are associated with some cancers of the penis, anus, vulva and vagina. Thus, preventing HPV infection could significantly reduce the incidence of cervical cancer and likely a number of other HPV-related cancers.
Several measures can be taken to help prevent genital HPV infection. First, there are prophylactic HPV vaccines available to prevent HPV infection. Current HPV vaccines are most efficacious if given before an individual first becomes sexually active. Condoms may also help prevent HPV infections of the genital area, but must be used during sexual activity from start to finish. Unfortunately, condom use cannot prevent HPV infection of those areas of the genital tract which are not covered by the condom. Individuals can also limit their number of sexual partners to prevent HPV infection. Because HPV infections are mostly asymptomatic, it is difficult to determine if a potential sexual partner is already infected with HPV. Thus, HPV vaccination is the recommended approach for preventing HPV on a population basis.
The HPV Prevention Center’s goals are to contribute to 1) understanding the molecular biology of HPV infection, 2) preventing HPV infections through development of better vaccines, 3) conducting population-based surveillance to evaluate the effectiveness of primary and secondary HPV prevention (i.e., vaccination and screening) and 4) developing educational interventions to increase public awareness about HPV prevention methods.