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Human Papillomavirus Testing

(HPV Testing; Testing, HPV; Testing, Human Papillomavirus)

Definition

Human papillomavirus (HPV) testing detects whether a woman's cervix is infected with the virus. The cervix is a canal that connects the lower part of the womb to the upper part of the vagina.

The HPV test is approved to detect some types of HPV on a woman's cervix. Currently, there is no test for men.

Cervix
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Reasons for the Test

HPV is spread by sexual contact. Certain types of HPV raise the risk of cervical cancer. HPV is also the cause of genital warts.

The HPV test is done on women who are 21 years or older and have had an abnormal Pap smear result. Women who are 30 years or older may have the HPV test along with a Pap smear to screen for cervical cancer.

Possible Complications

There are no major problems that could happen from this test.

What to Expect

Prior to Test

To improve test accuracy:

  • Do not schedule the test during your menstrual period.
  • Do not use creams, medicines, or douches before the test.
  • Do not use contraceptive for 72 hours before the test. This includes foams, creams, or jellies.
  • Do not have sex for 24 hours before the test.

Description of Test

You will lie on your back. Your feet are placed in footrests. You will be asked to let your legs fall open to the sides. A tool called a speculum will be inserted into the vagina. It opens the vagina so that the cervix can be viewed. A swab will be inserted into the vagina. The swab will be used to wipe the surface of the cervix. This test is most often performed at the same time you are having a Pap smear. The swab and speculum will be removed.

How Long Will It Take?

5 minutes

Will It Hurt?

You may feel some pressure or a small cramp when the cervix is wiped.

Results

Test results will be sent to your doctor. Your doctor will talk to you about the results and whether any further tests or treatments may be needed.

Call Your Doctor

Call the doctor if you have:

  • Signs of infection, such as fever and chills
  • Foul vaginal odor, pain, or unusual discharge
  • Severe belly pain or swelling

If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.

RESOURCES:

American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
http://www.acog.org

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
http://www.cdc.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Sex Information & Education Council of Canada
http://www.sieccan.org

Sexuality and U—The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
http://www.sexualityandu.ca

REFERENCES:

Genital HPV infection—fact sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/std/HPV/STDFact-HPV.htm. Accessed October 16, 2020.

HPV and men—fact sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/STD/hpv/STDFact-HPV-and-men.htm#testforwomen. Accessed October 16, 2020.

Human papillomavirus testing. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/human-papillomavirus-hpv/diagnosis-tests.html. Accessed October 16, 2020.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/human-papillomavirus-hpv-infection. Accessed October 16, 2020.

Hutter JN, Decker CF. Human papillomavirus infection. Dis Mon. 2016 Aug;62(8):294-300.

Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Elliot M. Levine, MD, FACOG  Last Updated: 4/27/2021