There’s an HPV test for the cervix, but not for other genital areas. Because HPV is common and often goes away on its own, it’s not always necessary to test for it.
Do I have HPV?
Because HPV is such a common infection that usually goes away on its own, most people never know they have HPV.
An HPV test finds high-risk types of HPV on your cervix that can possibly cause cancer. A Pap test, sometimes called a Pap smear, finds abnormal cell changes on your cervix (but it doesn't directly test for cancer or HPV).
Testing is important because it finds early warning signs before they cause problems, so you can get treatment to stay healthy. In most cases, cervical cancer is preventable if your doctor catches the warning signs early.
How often you should get tested depends on your age, medical history, and the results of your last Pap or HPV tests. In general:
- If you’re 21–24 years old: you can choose to get a Pap test every 3 years, or you can wait until you’re 25 years old to start getting tested.
- If you’re 25–65 years old: get an HPV test every 5 years, or a Pap test and HPV test together (co-testing) every 5 years. In some places where HPV testing is less available, you may get only a Pap test every 3 years.
- If you’re older than 65: you may not need HPV/Pap tests anymore.
Your doctor or nurse will tell you which tests you may need and how often you should get them.
If your Pap test or HPV test comes back positive, don’t panic — most of the time, it doesn’t mean that you have cancer. Your nurse or doctor will talk with you about any other testing or treatments you may need. And you’ll probably get testing more often, so your nurse or doctor can monitor your cervix to make sure you stay healthy.
For most people with HPV, the infection will go away without causing any problems. But you can still pass HPV to your partner(s), even if you don’t have any symptoms — that’s why having safer sex (like using condoms) is important.
Is there an HPV test for other parts of the body besides the cervix?
Right now, there isn’t a test for high-risk HPV in the vulva, penis, anus, or throat — there's only a test for the cervix. So the best way to keep yourself and your partner(s) healthy is get the HPV vaccine, have safer sex, and get regular checkups.
How to get tested for HPV
Wellness exams include a Pap test and/or HPV test if you need it. How often you should be tested depends on your age, medical history, and the results of your last Pap or HPV tests. Your doctor will let you know when you should get tested, and which tests make sense for you.
Testing for other STDs isn’t usually part of your regular checkup or gynecologist exam — you have to ask for it. Be honest with your nurse or doctor about your sex life so they can help you figure out which tests are best for you. Don’t be embarrassed: your doctor is there to help you, not judge you.