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Q: Why do I need a Pap test and an HPV test?
The Pap test checks for abnormal cell changes of your cervix caused by HPV. The HPV test looks for the DNA or RNA from high-risk types of HPV that can cause abnormal changes of cervical cells. Most women will be infected by HPV and will clear their infections within two years. A prolonged HPV infection can be the most significant risk factor for cervical cancer, especially infection with HPV 16 or 18—the two highest-risk strains of the virus.
For women age 30 and older, the combination of a Pap test and the HPV test—called co-testing—is less likely to miss an abnormality than the Pap test alone. The HPV test is used in screening women 30 and older because if the virus is found, it may be an infection that has been there for a long time. If you have HPV, you will be evaluated closely, even if your Pap test is normal. This means that disease may be found that was missed by the Pap test. If you have a high-risk strain of HPV, you will be followed closely, as long as the virus remains in your cells.