HPV (Human Papillomavirus)

HPV is a very common virus that is spread through sexual contact. The majority of sexually active people (about 75%) will have an HPV infection sometime in their life. Most people will not know they have an infection because there usually aren’t any signs of it.

Most HPV infections will resolve by themselves, however some “high risk” types of HPV don’t go away by themselves and can cause changes in cervical cells that might lead to cervical cancer. When these changes are detected early by a Pap Smear, or if infection with a high risk type HPV is diagnosed, cervical cancer can often be prevented or cured.

Almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV, and many people don’t even know they’re infected. This is why HPV testing is becoming an important part of cervical cancer screening in women age 30 or older.

Pap Test plus an HPV test:

Cervical cancer has a high rate of cure when detected early, so regular, effective screening is important. The Pap Test is better at evaluating current risk, while the HPV test is better at evaluating future risk. Together this combination of tests can help your doctor more accurately determine your risk of cervical cancer and when you should be screened again.

Both the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) say combined use of Pap test and HPV tests is an appropriate option for cervical cancer screening in women age 30 and older. Women age 30 and older should have a Pap test and HPV test for prevention and early detection. HPV infection typically goes away by itself, but a lasting infection places women age 30 and older at higher risk for cervical cancer. Detecting high -risk types of HPV lets your doctor know that you might have a higher than normal risk of developing cervical cancer and that more frequent follow up tests may be needed. Screening with both tests are not recommended for women under the age of 30. This is because cervical cancer doesn’t occur very often in younger women, and although HPV infections are very common in this age group, they usually go away by themselves.

HPV testing may be helpful in women when Pap test results are classified as ASCUS ( atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance). An ASCUS result means that abnormal cells were found, but it’s not clear whether these abnormal cells are a warning sign of cancer. An HPV test can determine if an infection is present and if additional testing is needed. During your annual exam the doctor collects cells from the cervix. The Pap test detects any changes in the cervical cells, and the HPV test determines if a high risk HPV infection is present or not. Younger women do not need HPV test unless the Pap test is inconclusive.