Science & Technology in Action

9th Edition

HPV — Human Papillomavirus

Health Service Executive

Jnr Science Cert
Cervical cancer is responsible for the deaths of some 250,000 women each year and most are a consequence of HPV infection. This lesson outlines the range of papilloma viruses and describes how vaccines can provide a very high degree of protection.
Download Lesson Kit

Contains the full lesson along with a supporting toolkit, including teachers’ notes.

Lesson excerpt

What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is responsible for the deaths of up to 250,000 women worldwide each year. It is amenable to treatment in the early stages. Consequently, many countries operate cervical cancer screening programs (Cervical Check in Ireland: for early detection of abnormalities in cervical cells that might progress to cancer. Most deaths of women occur in developing countries. There is evidence that more than 99% of cervical cancer cases result from a previous infection by HPV viruses.

What is HPV infection?
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a double stranded DNA virus that infects squamous epithelia. Over 150 types of these viruses have been identified; more than 70 of them can cause infection in humans. Some types infect the squamous epithelium of the skin and are responsible for common warts (verrucae). Others infect the mucous membranes of the upper respiratory tract and anogenital tracts. Around 40 of the viruses are transmitted by sexual contact and also from mother to baby during pregnancy or childbirth. Most people carry them at some stage in their lives. Some infections cause no symptoms and are transient. The body’s immune system will usually clear them within two years. However, if persistent infection occurs it can lead to anal, genital and oropharyngeal cancers in men and women. These cancers are not very common but cervical cancer has a substantial incidence. Vaccines that prevent HPV infections should reduce cervical cancer and a range of other cancers and genital warts.

To read the full lesson, download the pdf above.

True or False?

  1. HPV is the only known virus that is a proven cause of cancer. false
  2. A woman vaccinated against HPV has no need to undergo cervical smear tests. false
  3. Developing vaccines against some diseases such as AIDS and malaria has proven to be a difficult process. true
  4. Some precautions taken to limit risk of exposure to HIV can also be applied to HPV. true
  5. Vaccines made from attenuated organisms may produce an excellent immune response but can carry a slight risk of transmitting the disease. true
  6. HPV vaccine may not be administered in combination with other vaccines. false
  7. Vascular endothelial growth factor promotes the establishment of blood vessels that can help tumours to grow. true
  8. Crops have been genetically engineered to produce vaccines in their fruit. This has the potential to economically deliver vaccines to large populations. true

Glossary of terms

attenuated viruses
benign warts