HPV tests find some types of the virus that can cause cervical cancer. Because HPV is common and often goes away on its own, it’s not always necessary to test for it.
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How does HPV testing work?
An HPV test looks for some high-risk types of the human papilloma virus, including types 16 and 18, which cause most cases of cervical cancer.
An HPV test may be part of your regular checkup. During an HPV test, your doctor or nurse puts a metal or plastic speculum into your vagina. The speculum is opened to separate the walls of your vagina so that they can see your cervix. Your doctor or nurse then uses a small sampler — a tiny spatula or brush — to gently take a small number of cells from your cervix. The cells are sent to a lab to be tested.
Sometimes you'll get an HPV test at the same time as a Pap test. Your doctor or nurse might be able to use the same sample of cells for both tests. Or they might need to take 2 samples instead.
An HPV test only takes a few minutes. It shouldn't hurt, but you might feel some discomfort or pressure when your doctor or nurse opens the speculum inside you. You might also feel a light scratching when they take the cells from your cervix.
Should I get an HPV test?
Your nurse or doctor may recommend the HPV test:
if you’re older than 25, instead of a Pap test
if you’re between 30-65, along with a Pap test
as a follow-up to a Pap test that finds abnormal cells or when your Pap test results aren’t clear
You may need to get tested more often if you’ve had problems with your cervix before, have a weak immune system, or if your mother took a medicine called DES while she was pregnant with you. Your doctor or nurse will tell you which tests you need and how often you should get them.
What if I have HPV?
If you have a positive HPV test, don’t panic. This doesn’t mean that you have cancer. It means that you have a type of HPV that can possibly lead to cancer in the future. This means your nurse or doctor will want to keep an eye on you to make sure you stay healthy. So you’ll probably need to get HPV and/or Pap tests more often.
Where can I get tested for HPV?
You can get tested for HPV at your doctor’s office, a community health clinic, health department, or your nearest Planned Parenthood health center.