Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals

Human papillomavirus (HPV)

Human papillomavirus (HPV) causes cervical cancer, which is the fourth most common cancer in women, with an estimated 266,000 deaths and 528,000 new cases in 2012. A large majority (around 85%) of the global burden occurs in the less developed regions, where it accounts for almost 12% of all female cancers.

Although most infections with HPV cause no symptoms, persistent genital HPV infection can cause cervical cancer in women. Virtually all cervical cancer cases (99%) are linked to genital infection with HPV and it is the most common viral infection of the reproductive tract. HPV can also cause other types of anogenital cancer, head and neck cancers, and genital warts in both men and women. HPV infections are transmitted through sexual contact.

Two HPV vaccines are now being marketed in many countries throughout the world. Both vaccines are highly efficacious in preventing infection with virus types 16 and 18, which are together responsible for approximately 70% of cervical cancer cases globally. They are also highly efficacious in preventing precancerous cervical lesions caused by these types. One vaccine is also highly efficacious in preventing anogenital warts, a common genital disease which is virtually always caused by infection with HPV types 6 and 11. The primary target group in most of the countries recommending HPV vaccination is young adolescent girls. Data from clinical trials and initial post-marketing surveillance conducted in several continents show both vaccines to be safe.

WHO position papers

Note: The WHO HPV vaccine position paper has recently been updated to reflect the recommendation for a 2-dose schedule for girls younger than 15 years of age. A 3-dose schedule remains necessary if immunization is initiated after the 15th birthday, and for those known to be immunocompromised and/or HIV-infected.

Disease burden/surveillance

Vaccine topics

Further information

Last updated: 13 April 2015


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