Human papillomaviruses: Are we ready to type?

A. Roman, K. H. Fife

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

86 Scopus citations


The issue of determining which human papillomavirus (HPV) is present in a clinical specimen (typing specimens for HPVs) is receiving attention because HPVs cause condyloma acuminata and are associated with the continuum of disease which ranges from dysplasia to invasive genital cancer. Morphological inspection of precancerous lesions is not sufficient to determine which lesions will progress and which will not. A number of research tools based primarily on deoxyribonucleic acid hybridization have been developed. These permit identification and typing of HPV in genital tract scrapings or biopsies. Some HPV types (e.g., HPV-16 and HPV-18) have been identified in high-grade dysplasias and carcinomas more commonly than other types (e.g., HPV-6) and have been designated 'high risk' types for cervical cancer. Thus, the question arises whether HPV typing would improve patient management by providing increased sensitivity for detection of patients at risk or by providing a prognostic indicator. In this review, the available typing methods are reviewed from the standpoint of their sensitivity, specificity, and ease of application to large-scale screening programs. Data implicating HPVs in the genesis of genital tract cancers are reviewed, as is the association of specific HPV types with specific outcomes. We conclude that there is currently no simple, inexpensive assay for HPV types, although such assays may be developed in the future. Analysis of the typing data indicates that, while HPV types can be designated high risk and low risk, these designations are not absolute and thus the low-risk should not be ignored. In addition, interpretation of the data is complicated by finding high-risk types in individuals with no indication of disease. Insufficient data exist to indicate whether knowledge of the presence of a given HPV type is a better prognostic indicator than cytological or histological results. Thus, more research is needed before it can be determined whether typing information will augment the method currently in use for deciding treatment regimen and whether it warrants widespread use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)166-190
Number of pages25
JournalClinical Microbiology Reviews
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 1989

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases

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