Over 270 million doses of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine have been given worldwide and if you happen to be one of those people who have been vaccinated, don’t forget that it’s still important to check in on your HPV status!  That’s right, even if you are vaccinated, you’re not entirely protected from HPV. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while the HPV vaccine is one of the most reliable ways to protect against HPV, the vaccine doesn’t protect against all HPV types which is why HPV testing and cervical screening is crucial, even if you have been vaccinated .
This is everything you should know about the HPV test, including its accuracy and what happens if you test positive.
Related article: HPV Vaccine: What You Should Know
How do you test for HPV?
To begin, HPV testing and a Pap test (or Pap smear test) have the same purpose but do differ. While a Pap smear test looks for precancerous cell changes in the cervix, an HPV test looks for the presence of high-risk HPV strains.
The HPV test looks for HPV strains that are considered high-risk for developing cervical cancer and while the HPV test is a screening test for cervical cancer, it doesn’t tell you whether you have cancer. If your results show that you have a high-risk strain of HPV, both you and your healthcare provider can discuss the best next steps - this might include further testing or monitoring.
The HPV test can be done on its own or it can be done at the same time as the Pap test. The American Cancer Society recommends a primary HPV test to screen for cervical cancers or pre-cancers; a primary HPV test is a test that is done by itself, rather than at the same time as the Pap test, for cervical cancer screening .
Keep in mind that the most important thing is that you get tested and check in on your health, no matter what test you avail of.
Related article: What is The Difference Between Pap Smears and HPV Testing?
How accurate is an HPV test?
Like many screening tests, an HPV test does carry a risk of false positive or false negative results. If you receive a false positive, further tests will be conducted that will confirm that there was no risk. If you receive a false negative, further tests will likely mean you won’t be sent for further testing - this is why it’s crucial to never ignore symptoms and speak with your doctor if you have any concerns .
It’s important to note that if abnormal cells were missed on one screening test, they should be found in the next test - this of course is why it’s so important to always attend your screening check.
Does HPV show up in a blood test?
Certain strains of HPV cause genital warts and according to the Mayo Clinic, your doctor may be able to detect the HPV infection by simply looking at your warts. However, to detect high-risk strains of HPV, a cervical swab sample is needed and there is no blood test that can be used to detect HPV.
Related article: The Different Types of HPV: High-Risk, Low-Risk, Testing and Treatment
What happens if you test positive for HPV?
If you receive a positive test, it means that a high-risk HPV strain has been detected. Remember, this doesn’t mean you have cervical cancer, it just means that you have a type of HPV that could potentially cause cervical cancer in the future. You may require a follow-up test or further monitoring, your healthcare provider will discuss the best options for you.
Related article: How Do You Get HPV?
As well as vaccination, one of the most reliable ways to avoid any complications associated with HPV is through regular testing - this can be done with your doctor or from home with an at-home HPV test.
LetsGetChecked’s at-home HPV test detects high-risk strains of cervical cancer. It involves a simple cervical swab sample and online results will be available within 2-5 days. Should you have any questions throughout the process, our dedicated clinical team is there to offer a helping hand, explain your results, and take you through any recommended next steps. This test is not a replacement for regular cervical (pap) smear tests.
You should take the test if*:
- You have had skin to skin contact with someone who is carrying the HPV virus
- You have had unprotected sex
- You have not received an HPV vaccine
*It is important to discuss this test with your doctor if you are outside the recommended age for HPV screening programs. This test is not a replacement for regular cervical (pap) smear tests.
Related article: Why is it Important to Check For HPV?