HPV, or human papillomavirus, causes the abnormal changes on the cells of your cervix that may lead to cervical cancer. As women, we see our healthcare practitioner yearly in order to determine our pap status with hopes that everything is negative or normal.
There are two types of tests that your practitioner can perform on your cervix – one is the pap smear that gently scrapes off cells from the face and the inside of your tissue. These cells are sent to a lab where a pathologist reviews them under a microscope looking for abnormalities. The other test relies on molecular techniques to find actual HPV DNA in the cervical samples collected and determines if it is the high-risk type.
The HPV DNA test does not report whether or not the cells have begun to change for the worse, it only lets you know if there is high-risk HPV in the area of the cervix. (Sort of like a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ test).
When you go for your annual exam, your practitioner will typically perform a pap test and pelvic exam as a screening for cervical cancer. Based on your medical history, sexual history, and age, you might be a good candidate to have the HPV DNA testing added on to your pap test. Together, these results will let you know if you have any abnormal cellular changes and if high-risk HPV is in your cervical cells.
Other reasons for having the HPV DNA test may include the monitoring of previously positive HPV tests, abnormal pap smear changes, and for those patients who have underlying medical conditions such as HIV.
Make sure you talk with your healthcare practitioner to determine if the HPV DNA test is appropriate for you. And remember to continue your annual exams!