Is the HPV test Necessary?

Ask the Expert

Q:

I'm 32 and have asked my health care provider for the HPV test, but she says I don't need it. Why?


A:

Health care providers differ in what they offer as routine screenings, based on their professional practice decisions. Many do make the HPV test available to women your age because it is now recommended by many major professional organizations. For example, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Cancer Society recommend as an option that women who are 30 or older may have the HPV test along with a Pap test, rather than the Pap test alone.

The HPV test looks for cancer-causing types of the human papillomavirus (HPV), which cause nearly all cases of cervical cancer. Pap tests look for abnormal cell changes caused by HPV. Studies find that the combination of a Pap test and HPV test is the most effective way to find cervical disease and cancer, better than using a Pap alone. If the HPV test is positive (meaning you have HPV), it doesn't necessarily mean you will get cancer. Almost all women clear the virus with the help of their immune systems. It just means that your health care provider will want to monitor you more closely for any cell changes that may happen as a result of the HPV infection.

Given that more and more health care professionals are now offering the HPV test along with the Pap to women 30 and older, you may want to ask your health care provider again. You can reassure your provider that you understand that having HPV does not mean you have or will get cervical cancer. But if you do have HPV, you would like to be monitored more closely. For more information or tips for speaking with your health care provider, go to http://healthywomen.org/condition/human-papillomavirus-hpv.

Women under 30 do not need to be tested for HPV unless their Pap tests are inconclusive or "borderline" for cell changes. This is because most young women will have an active infection at some point, but the infection will clear up on its own without problems.

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