HPV test

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.

Your doctor might recommend the HPV test 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 it's done Risks How you prepare What you can expect Results

The HPV test is a screening test for cervical cancer, but the test doesn't tell you whether you have cancer. Instead, the test detects the presence of HPV, the virus that causes cervical cancer, in your system. Certain types of HPV — including types 16 and 18 — increase your cervical cancer risk.

Knowing whether you have a type of HPV that puts you at high risk of cervical cancer means that you and your doctor can better decide on the next steps in your health care. Those steps might include follow-up monitoring, further testing, or treatment of abnormal or precancerous cells.

Routine use of the HPV test in women under age 30 isn't recommended, nor is it very helpful. HPV spreads through sexual contact and is very common in young women, so, frequently, the test results will be positive. But 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.

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