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A persistent high-risk human papillomavirus (hrHPV) infection is a necessary condition for developing a cervical intraepithelial neoplasia and cervical cancer. The viral aetiology in cervical carcinogenesis has stimulated attempts to use HPV DNA detection in cervical cancer screening. In Finland there is an ongoing study assessing the benefits of primary HPV DNA testing in the setting of centrally organised mass screening for cervical cancer. Here we present the age-specific prevalence of hrHPV infection and associated sociodemographic factors of 16,895 women aged 25–65 years attending the 5-yearly cervical cancer screening between years 2003 and 2004. The overall hrHPV prevalence rate was 7.5%. The peak prevalence at the age group of 25–29 was 24.1% decreasing steadily thereafter to approximately 2.9% in women aged 65 years. Young age and marital status were the main determinants for oncogenic HPV types. Our study confirms the inverse relationship between age and hrHPV prevalence reported in many developed countries. As our prevalence rates and hence background risk for cervical cancer are not lower than in other European countries, it is likely that our lowest cervical cancer burden in Europe is due to health care actions justifying the organised cervical cancer screening. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.