The human papillomavirus (HPV) test detects the presence of human papillomavirus, a virus that can lead to the development of genital warts, abnormal cervical cells or cervical cancer.
HPV test may be recommended if:
- Your Pap test was abnormal, showing atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance (ASCUS)
- You're age 30 or older
The HPV test is available only to women; no HPV test yet exists to detect the virus in men. However, men can be infected with HPV and pass the virus along to their sex partners.
Why is it done?
The HPV test is a screening test for cervical cancer. The test detects the presence of HPV, the virus that causes cervical cancer. Certain types of HPV - including types 16 and 18- increase ones cervical cancer risk.
Knowing the type of HPV one along with doctor can decide on next steps of management, which may be following up, further testing, or treatment of abnormal or precancerous cells.
Routine use of the HPV test in women under age 30 is not recommended. HPV spreads through sexual contact and is very common in young women, so, frequently, the test results will be positive. However, HPV infections often clear on their own within a year or two. Cervical changes that lead to cancer take several years often 10 years or more to develop. For these reasons, you might follow a course of watchful waiting instead of undergoing treatment for cervical changes resulting from an HPV infection
What you can expect?
An HPV test is usually done at the same time as a Pap test - a test that collects cells from your cervix to check for abnormalities or the presence of cancer. An HPV test can be done using the same sample from the Pap test or by collecting a second sample from the cervical canal.
Results from your HPV test will come back as either positive or negative.
- Positive HPV test. A positive test result means that you have a type of high-risk HPV that's linked to cervical cancer. It doesn't mean that you have cervical cancer now, but it's a warning sign that cervical cancer could develop in the future. Your doctor will probably recommend a follow-up test in a year to see if the infection has cleared or to check for signs of cervical cancer.
- Negative HPV test. A negative test result means that you don't have any of the types of HPV that cause cervical cancer.
Depending on your test results, your doctor may recommend one of the following as a next step:
- Normal monitoring. If you're over age 30, your HPV test is negative and your Pap test normal , you'll follow the generally recommended schedule for repeating both tests in five years.
- Colposcopy. In this follow-up procedure, your doctor uses a special magnifying lens (colposcope) to more closely examine your cervix.
- Biopsy. In this procedure, sometimes done in conjunction with colposcopy, your doctor takes a sample of cervical cells (biopsy) to be examined more closely under a microscope.
- Removal of abnormal cervical cells. To prevent abnormal cells from developing into cancerous cells, your doctor may suggest a procedure to remove the areas of tissue that contain the abnormal cells.
- Seeing a specialist. If your Pap test or HPV test results are abnormal, your health care provider will probably refer you to a gynecologist for a colposcopic exam. If test results show that you might have cancer, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in treating cancers of the female genital tract (gynecologic oncologist) for treatment.
What Women with a Positive HPV Test Result Should Know.
Genital human papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common virus in men and women. It is passed on through genital contact, most often during vaginal and anal sex.
Most sexually active people will get HPV at some time in their lives, though most will never know it because HPV usually has no signs or symptoms.
There are about 40 types of genital HPV. In most cases, HPV goes away on its own, without causing any health problems. It is thought that the immune system fights off HPV infection naturally.
But sometimes, HPV does not go away on its own. Some HPV types can cause genital warts. Other HPV types (called "high-risk" types) can cause cell changes on a woman's cervix that can lead to cervical cancer over time. The types of HPV that cause genital warts are different from the types that can cause cancer.
Having HPV is not the same thing as having HIV or herpes.
Having HPV also does not make it harder to get or stay pregnant.
Doctors can treat the cell changes that HPV may cause; they do not treat HPV (a virus).
Condoms may lower your chances of passing HPV to future partners, if used all the time and the right way. Condoms may also lower your chances of getting other types of HPV or developing HPV-related diseases (genital warts and cervical cancer). But HPV can infect areas that are not covered by a condom, so condoms may not fully protect against HPV.