Cancer of the uterine cervix is the second largest cause of cancer deaths in women, and its toll is greatest in populations that lack screening programmes to detect precursor lesions. Persistent infection with 'high risk' genotypes of human papillomavirus (HPV) is necessary, although not sufficient, to cause cervical carcinoma. Therefore, HPV vaccination provides an opportunity to profoundly affect cervical cancer incidence worldwide. A recently licensed HPV subunit vaccine protects women from a high proportion of precursor lesions of cervical carcinoma and most genital warts. Here we examine the ramifications and remaining questions that surround preventive HPV vaccines.
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