Early epidemiological studies of cervical neoplasia suggested a causal relation with sexual activity and human papillomaviruses (HPVs) have emerged as prime suspects as venerally transmitted carcinogens. HPVs fall into two broad camps: low risk types, associated with cervical condylomas and CIN 1; and high risk types (mostly 16 and 18), found in 50-80% of CIN 2 and CIN 3 lesions, and 90% of cancers. This association with cancer is very strong, with odds ratios of > 15 (often much higher) in case-control studies that are methodologically sound. An infrequently detected third group of intermediate risk type HPVs is associated with all grades of CIN and occasionally with cancers. HPVs have also been detected in a wide range of asymptomatic controls, indicating that other events are required for development of neoplasia such as viral persistence and/or altered expression of viral genes, often following integration of the viral genome. This leaves the two major viral oncogenes, E6 and E7, directly coupled to viral enhancers and promoters, allowing their continued expression after integration. High risk HPV E7 proteins bind and inactivate the Rb protein, whereas E6 proteins bind p53 and direct its rapid degradation. A range of putative cofactors has been implicated in progression: HLA type, immunosuppression, sex steroid hormones, and smoking; most of these cofactors appear to influence progression to CIN 3. The natural history includes progression to CIN 3 in 10% of CIN 1 and 20% of CIN 2 cases, whereas at least 12% of CIN 3 cases progress to invasive carcinoma. Cervical glandular intraepithelial neoplasia (CGIN) often coexists with squamous CIN, and the premalignant potential of high grade CGIN is not in doubt, but the natural history of low grade CGIN remains uncertain. A high proportion of CGIN lesions and adenocarcinomas are HPV positive, and HPV18 has been implicated more in glandular than in squamous lesions. A strong clinical case for the application of HPV typing of cells recovered from cervical scrapes can be made; however, a rigorous cost-benefit analysis of introducing HPV typing into the cervical screening programme is required. Prophylactic and therapeutic HPV vaccines are under development. This article reviews the aetiology, pathogenesis, and pathology of cervical neoplasia, emphasising the role of HPVs.
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