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Epidemiologic evidence showing that human papillomavirus infection causes most cervical intraepithelial neoplasia.

BACKGROUND: Experimental studies have provided strong evidence that human papillomavirus (HPV) is the long-sought venereal cause of cervical neoplasia, but the epidemiologic evidence has been inconsistent.

PURPOSE: Given improvements in HPV testing that have revealed a strong link between sexual activity history and cervical HPV infection, we conducted a large case-control study of HPV and cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) to evaluate whether sexual behavior and the other established risk factors for CIN influence risk primarily via HPV infection.

METHODS: We studied 500 women with CIN and 500 control subjects receiving cytologic screening at Kaiser Permanente, a large prepaid health plan, in Portland, Ore. The established epidemiologic risk factors for CIN were assessed by telephone interview. We performed HPV testing of cervicovaginal lavage specimens by gene amplification using polymerase chain reaction with a consensus primer to target the L1 gene region of HPV. Unconditional logistic regression analysis was used to estimate relative risk of CIN and to adjust the epidemiologic associations for HPV test results to demonstrate whether the associations were mediated by HPV.

RESULTS: The case subjects demonstrated the typical epidemiologic profile of CIN: They had more sex partners, more cigarette smoking, earlier ages at first sexual intercourse, and lower socioeconomic status. Statistical adjustment for HPV infection substantially reduced the size of each of these case-control differences. Seventy-six percent of cases could be attributed to HPV infection; the results of cytologic review suggested that the true percentage was even higher. Once HPV infection was taken into account, an association of parity with risk of CIN was observed in both HPV-negative and HPV-positive women.

CONCLUSION: The data show that the great majority of all grades of CIN can be attributed to HPV infection, particularly with the cancer-associated types of HPV.

IMPLICATIONS: In light of this conclusion, the investigation of the natural history of HPV has preventive as well as etiologic importance.

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