Human papillomavirus (HPV)

Each year cervical cancer kills 275,000 women worldwide, mostly in developing countries. There are two vaccines against the major cancer causing strains of human papillomavirus (HPV), the infectious cause of cervical cancer. When given to girls prior to sexual debut, the vaccines are more than 92 percent effective in preventing persistent HPV infection and 100 percent effective in preventing vaccine type-specific cervical lesions (precancer). For women already infected with persistent HPV, when cervical precancer is detected early, treatment success rates are high.

View resources on human papillomavirus (HPV)

On the PATH website

  • Understanding the burden of cervical cancer and how to prevent HPV-related disease.
  • Providing technical assistance for country HPV vaccination programs.

PATH technical website on HPV and cervical cancer

  • RHO Cervical Cancer Library—This website provides up-to-date resources from the world’s leading expert organizations including the World Health Organization, the International Union for Cancer Control, the American Cancer Society, the Cervical Cancer Action coalition, and PATH, among others.

HPV disease

  • HPV is a common infection that most men and women acquire at some point in their lives.
  • HPV causes cervical cancer and other health problems, leading to about 530,000 cervical cancer diagnoses and 275,000 deaths each year. Eighty-eight percent of deaths occur in the developing world.
  • There are more than 100 types of HPV, most of which do not cause severe disease.
  • Low-risk types of HPV can cause genital warts whereas high-risk types can lead to cancer of the cervix, vagina, anus, and penis. Cervical cancer is the most common by far.
  • Usually HPV infections resolve without causing health problems, but sometimes they persist. These are the cases that can progress, over many years, into life-threatening cervical cancer.
  • Treatment at the “precancer” stage is relatively simple, does not cause serious health problems to the patient, and has high rates of success. Screening adult women for cervical precancer and cancer at least once in their lives significantly reduces the risk of death.

HPV vaccines

  • When given to girls and young women prior to sexual debut, new vaccines against the two HPV types that account for 70 percent of cervical cancer cases worldwide—types 16 and 18—have proven to be more than 92 percent effective in preventing persistent HPV infection and 100 percent effective in preventing vaccine type-specific cervical lesions (precancer).
  • Two HPV vaccines currently are available and, with support from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, many developing-world, public-sector programs have introduced them over the past few years.
  • Cervical cancer prevention strategies should be comprehensive, including both screening and treatment of cervical lesions among adult women and vaccination of young adolescent girls.
  • Because HPV vaccines do not protect against all cancer-causing types of the virus, and because many women have already been infected, cervical screening programs will be necessary for many years, and even vaccinated women will need to be screened.


Page last updated: June 2017.

Photo: Richard Lord.