The risk of cervical cancer for a woman depends largely on the probability of being infected with some specific types of Human Papillomavirus (HPV). In the control groups of four case-control studies in Colombia and Spain we have shown a strong correlation between the number of sexual partners of males and females and HPV DNA prevalence in the genital tract. Our results suggest that the lifetime number of sexual partners in both sexes are surrogates of the probability of HPV infection and, as such, insufficiently explain the geographical variation in the incidence of cervical cancer. It is proposed that the high rates of cervical cancer in Latin America are linked to the largely unknown characteristics of the HPV endemicity in the population and to the absence of widespread screening for cervical neoplasia. Reliable surveys on the HPV prevalences in selected social groups (i.e., young males and prostitutes) as well as in populations in countries at different risk of cervical cancer are required.

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