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Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Does this test have other names?

HPV DNA test, DNA Pap, HPV co-test

What is this test?

This test checks for the human papillomavirus (HPV) around the cervix. There are different kinds of HPV. The viruses can cause warts, such as plantar warts on the bottom of the feet, and genital warts. They can also cause different kinds of cancers. These include cervical, throat, and anal cancers.

More than 100 types of HPVs have been found. Few carry a high cancer risk. HPV can travel from person to person during sexual contact. It’s one of the most widely spread sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).  

Why do I need this test?

You may need this test to see if you have HPV. Long-term infection with HPV is the greatest risk factor for cervical cancer. So this test is often used to check women for viruses that could cause this cancer.

The HPV test is not advised as a cervical cancer screening test for women in their 20s who are sexually active. These women are much more likely to have an HPV infection that will go away on its own. Because of this, the results of an HPV test are less likely to be useful. But an HPV test may be done if a woman in her 20s has an abnormal Pap test. A Pap test checks for abnormal cervical cells or cervical cancer.

Testing for cancer-causing HPV in the anus is not often done.

What other tests might I have along with this test?

The test may be done at the same time as a Pap test. A Pap test checks for abnormal cervical cells or cervical cancer. The test is done by collecting a sample to check for abnormal cells. The American Cancer Society (ACS) suggests that women ages 30 and older have a Pap test every 5 years along with an HPV test. Another choice for women ages 30 to 65 is to get tested every 3 years with just the Pap test. If needed, your provider may also check for gonorrhea and chlamydia. These are 2 other STDs.

What do my test results mean?

Test results may vary depending on your age, gender, health history, the method used for the test, and other things. Your test results may not mean you have a problem. Ask your healthcare provider what your test results mean for you. 

Tests for cervical HPV check for DNA from several types of HPV. The test will show if it found types of HPV that could cause cancer. The results may be:

  • Negative. This means that the test didn't find HPV types that could cause cancer. Or this means it found only types that carry a low risk for cancer. 

  • Positive. This means the test found at least 1 HPV type that could cause cancer. It doesn't mean that you have cancer. But it may mean you need other tests.  

How is this test done?

This test is done with a sample of cells from your cervix. To collect the sample, your healthcare provider will put a speculum into your vagina so that he or she can reach the cervix. Your provider will use 1 or more tools shaped like a spatula, brush, or both. These are used to collect samples of cells in the cervix.

Does this test pose any risks?

This test poses no known risks.

What might affect my test results?

The results don't seem to be affected by menstrual blood or lubricant in the vagina. Little is known about the effect of vaginal intercourse, tampons, and douching shortly before test. 

How do I get ready for this test?

Ask your healthcare provider or nurse if you need to do anything to prepare for this test. The ACS recommends avoiding all of the below 2 to 3 days before a Pap test:

  • Sexual intercourse

  • Douches

  • Tampons

  • Vaginal cream 

  • Birth control foam or jelly 

Be sure your healthcare provider knows about all medicines, herbs, vitamins, and supplements you are taking. This includes medicines that don’t need a prescription and any illegal drugs you may use.

Online Medical Reviewer: Finke, Amy, RN, BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Haldeman-Englert, Chad, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2018
© 2000-2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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