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HPV Test

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Also known as: HPV DNA; HPV RNA; High-risk HPV; hrHPV
Formal name: Genital Human Papillomavirus
Related tests: Pap Test

Board approvedAll content on Lab Tests Online has been reviewed and approved by our Editorial Review Board.

At a Glance

Why Get Tested?

To screen for infections in women with the high-risk types of HPV (hrHPV) that are associated with cervical cancer or to follow up on an abnormal Pap test

When to Get Tested?

If you are a woman aged 30 to 65; if you are a woman aged 21 to 29 and have an abnormal Pap test

Sample Required?

A sampling of cells from the cervical area

Test Preparation Needed?

It is recommended that you do not douche or use tampons or vaginal creams, deodorants, or medications for 2 days before the test. Some health practitioners may request that you refrain from sex for 24 to 48 hours before the test. Reschedule the test if you are having your period (menstruating). You may be asked to empty your bladder before the examination.

The Test Sample

What is being tested?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of more than 100 related viruses. Some types of HPV are considered high risk because they are associated with cancer. HPV tests detect the genetic material (DNA or RNA) of the virus.

Some types of HPV can cause skin warts, while other types can cause genital warts (also called condylomata). Genital HPV infection is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 79 million Americans are infected with HPV and over 14 million become newly infected each year.

Most HPV infections spread through oral, anal, or genital sex are short-lived and relatively benign. The low-risk types of HPV that cause genital warts can be diagnosed through visual inspection and, therefore, do not require testing. Some HPV tests detect the low-risk types of HPV that cause warts, but the tests are generally not recommended for that purpose.

There are at least 13 types of HPV (such as HPV-16, HPV-18, HPV-31, HPV-33, and HPV-45) that are considered high risk. They do not usually cause visible warts, but long-lasting (persistent) infections are the cause of most cases of cervical cancer and are linked to other, less common cancers, such as those of the vagina, mouth, throat (including the base of the tongue and the tonsils), penis, and anus.

High-risk HPV types 16 and 18 account for about 70% of cervical cancers in the U.S. Each year, more than 13,000 women in the U.S. develop cervical cancer and about 4,000 are expected to die from it. In addition, some studies have also shown that persistent oral infections with high-risk types of HPV are strongly associated with oral cancers, including cancer of the mouth and throat (oropharyngeal cancer). Anal cancer has also been linked to HPV types 16 and 18. These high-risk types can be detected with an HPV test. The test is primarily used to screen for cervical cancer or to identify women at risk of cervical cancer.

How is the sample collected for testing?

A sampling of cells is taken from the cervical area in females during a pelvic examination using a swab or small brush. The sample is then placed into a bottle containing a special liquid preservative. The same sample of cells can be used for both the Pap test and the HPV test.

Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?

It is recommended that you do not douche or use tampons or vaginal creams, deodorants, or medications for 2 days before the test. Some health practitioners may request that you refrain from sex for 24 to 48 hours before the test. Reschedule the test if you are having your period (menstruating). You may be asked to empty your bladder before the examination.

The Test

Common Questions

Article Sources

NOTE: This article is based on research that utilizes the sources cited here as well as the collective experience of the Lab Tests Online Editorial Review Board. This article is periodically reviewed by the Editorial Board and may be updated as a result of the review. Any new sources cited will be added to the list and distinguished from the original sources used. To access online sources, copy and paste the URL into your browser.

Sources Used in Current Review

Office on Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. ePublications: Pap Test. Available online at http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/pap-test.html. Last reviewed January 3, 2014. Accessed July 13, 2015.

World Health Organization. Human Papillomavirus and Cervical Cancer. Available online at http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs380/en/. Reviewed March 2015. Accessed July 13, 2015.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Genital HPV Infection - Fact Sheet. Available online at http://www.cdc.gov/std/HPV/STDFact-HPV.htm. Last updated February 23, 2015. Accessed July 13, 2015.

Ratnam S, et al. Aptima HPV E6/E7 mRNA Test Is as Sensitive as Hybrid Capture 2 Assay but More Specific at Detecting Cervical Precancer and Cancer. Journal of Clinical Microbiology. 2011; 49(2): 557-564.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pap Tests and Cervical Cancer – FastStats. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/pap-tests.htm. Last updated May 14, 2015. Accessed July 15, 2015.

Huh W, et. al. Use of primary high-risk human papillomavirus testing for cervical cancer screening: Interim clinical guidance. Gynecologic Oncology. Published online at http://www.gynecologiconcology-online.net/article/S0090-8258%2814%2901577-7/fulltext. Accessed February 4, 2015.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines for Average-Risk Women. Available online at http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/pdf/guidelines.pdf. Accessed July 13, 2015.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HPV and Men – Fact Sheet. Available online at http://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv-and-men.htm. Last updated January 28, 2015. Accessed July 13, 2015.

Saslow, et al. American Cancer Society, American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology, and American Society for Clinical Pathology Screening Guidelines for the Prevention and Early Detection of Cervical Cancer. American Journal of Clinical Pathology. 2012;137:516-542.

American Society for Clinical Pathology. Algorithms: Updated Consensus Guidelines for Managing Abnormal Cervical Cancer Screening Tests and Cancer Precursors. Available online at http://www.asccp.org/Portals/9/docs/ASCCP%20Management%20Guidelines_August%202014.pdf. Accessed July 14, 2015.

American Society for Clinical Pathology. Updated Consensus Guidelines FAQs. Available online at http://www.asccp.org/Guidelines/Guidelines-Frequently-Asked-Questions. Accessed July 14, 2015.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines, 2015. Recommendations and Reports. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. June 5, 2015. Available online at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr6403a1.htm. Accessed July 1, 2015.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Approved Products – Human Papillomavirus Vaccine. Available online at http://www.fda.gov/BiologicsBloodVaccines/Vaccines/ApprovedProducts/ucm172678.htm. Last updated January 29, 2015. Accessed July 15, 2015.

American Academy of Pediatrics. Immunization – Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Available online at https://www2.aap.org/immunization/illnesses/hpv/hpv.html. Last updated June 18, 2015. Accessed July 14, 2015.

American Cancer Society. Cervical Cancer Prevention and Early Detection. Available online through http://www.cancer.org. Last revised December 11, 2014. Accessed July 1, 2015.

(Feb 2 2015) American Cancer Society. HPV and Cancer. Available online at http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/othercarcinogens/infectiousagents/hpv/hpv-and-cancer-info. Accessed Sept 2015.

Sources Used in Previous Reviews

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases website. Available online at http://www.niaid.nih.gov/factsheets/stdhpv.htm.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available online at http://cdc.gov/nchstp/dstd/Fact_Sheets/FactsHPV.htm.

American Social Health Association website. Available online at http://www.ashastd.org/stdfaqs/syphilis.html.

Interview with Nadine Bartholoma, MS, MT (ASCP), SM. Virology Coordinator at University Hospital Pathology Laboratory, SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY.

Thomas, Clayton L., Editor (1997). Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary. F.A. Davis Company, Philadelphia, PA [18th Edition].

Pagana, Kathleen D. & Pagana, Timothy J. (2001). Mosby's Diagnostic and Laboratory Test Reference 5th Edition: Mosby, Inc., Saint Louis, MO.

(2004 Copyright). Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). American Cancer Society [On-line information]. Available online through http://www.cancer.org.

Bren, L. (2004 January February). Cervical Cancer Screening. FDA Consumer Magazine [On-line article]. Available online at http://www.fda.gov/fdac/features/2004/104_cancer.html.

(2004 Copyright). Human Papillomavirus (HPV). ARUP's Guide to Clinical Laboratory Testing [On-line testing information]. Available online at http://www.arup-lab.com/guides/clt/tests/clt_302a.jsp#3465668.

(2004 May 4). Revised Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines Require Reeducation of Women and Physicians. ACOG [On-line news release]. Available online at http://www.acog.org/from_home/publications/press_releases/nr05-04-04-1.cfm.

(2004 Copyright). The High-Risk HPV Test: A Breakthrough in Cervical Cancer Screening. The HPVtest.com [On-line information from Digene Corportaion]. Available online at http://www.thehpvtest.com/factsheet.html.

American Cancer Society, ACS News Center, HPV Vaccine Approved; Prevents Cervical Cancer (article date June 8, 2006). Available online through http://www.cancer.org.

National Cancer Institute, Human Papillomas Vaccines: Questions and Answers (June 2006-online information). Available online at http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/risk/HPV-vaccine.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration fact sheet (June 2006-online information). Available online at http://www.fda.gov/womens/getthefacts/hpv.html.

Darragh TM, Winkler B. The ABCs of anal-rectal cytology. CAP Today. College of American Pathologists, May 2004 (Online information). Available online at http://www.cap.org/apps/docs/cap_today/pap_ngc/NGC_analrectalcyto.html.

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