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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.

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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.

If you do find out you have HPV, it’s usually because of an abnormal Pap test result. Pap tests, sometimes called Pap smears, are very important tests for finding abnormal cells on your cervix, generally caused by HPV. Pap tests find cell changes that are likely caused by HPV, but they don’t detect HPV itself.

There’s also an HPV test that can find some high-risk types of the virus directly, but it’s only used in certain situations. Your nurse or doctor may recommend the HPV test

  • for women 25 and older instead of a Pap test

  • for women 30-65, along with a Pap test

  • as a follow-up to a Pap test that finds abnormal cells or when Pap test results aren’t clear

Your doctor or nurse will tell you which tests you may need and how often you should get them.

If your HPV test result comes back positive, don’t panic. This doesn’t mean that you have cancer. It means you have a type of HPV that can increase your risk of getting cancer in the future. Knowing this allows you to follow up with your nurse or doctor and monitor your health. Most likely they’ll want to do tests more often, at least for a little while, to make sure you’re healthy.

There’s currently no test to detect high-risk HPV in people with penises, so the best you can do is get the vaccine, use condoms, and get regular checkups. For most, the infection will go away without causing any problems. However, it’s important to realize that even if you don’t have any symptoms, you can still pass HPV to your partner(s).

Remember to practice safer sex — this means using condoms and/or dental dams during vagina, anal and oral sex — to help lower your chances of getting HPV.

How to get tested for HPV

You can get Pap/HPV tests at your doctor’s office, a community health clinic, the health department, or your local Planned Parenthood health center.

Well-woman exams include a Pap test or HPV test as needed. 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 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.

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