Screening for HPV
If you are 30 years old or older, talk to your doctor about testing for human papillomavirus (HPV) when you have a Pap test. HPV is a widespread virus that can cause genital warts as well as cervical cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. Some strains of HPV are more likely to raise the risk of cervical cancer than others.
Although the immune systems of most people attack the virus and clear the HPV infection within two years or so, that’s not always the case. The result can be cell changes in the cervix leading to cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
The HPV DNA test checks cells collected from the cervix for infection with any of the types of HPV which are most likely to lead to cervical cancer. The same swab or an additional one can be used to collect cells for both your Pap and HPV tests at the same doctor visit.
Understanding Pap test results
It can take several weeks to receive the results of a Pap test as well as an HPV test, if it was performed at the same time. If either or both tests are positive, your doctor will follow up to discuss any need for additional testing and possible treatment for abnormal cells that are not yet cancer.
Your Pap test results will be reported as normal, unclear, or abnormal. A normal result indicates no abnormal cell changes were found in your cervix.
It’s not unusual for a Pap test to come back neither normal nor abnormal but as unclear or inconclusive, the CDC points out. This means cervical cells may possibly be abnormal, but not due to cancer-causing HPV. Instead, these changes can be caused by pregnancy, menopause, or an infection. You’ll need to be tested for HPV, if you haven’t had the test yet, to help determine if the cell changes are related to that virus.
If your Pap test registers as abnormal, it doesn’t mean you definitely have cervical cancer or a precancerous condition. It does, however, indicate cell changes were found on your cervix, likely caused by HPV. The changes will be scored according to their degree of abnormality — either minor (low-grade) or serious (high-grade).
January 08, 2018
Janet O’Dell, RN