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HPV Screening

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Human papillomavirus, commonly referred to as HPV, is a common sexually transmitted infection. You can become infected with HPV by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with an infected person.

Health Problems Caused by HPV

In most cases, an HPV infection goes away without treatment and does not cause health problems. Most people with HPV do not even realize that they are infected. Certain strains of the HPV virus can cause genital warts or even cancer. The most common cancers caused by HPV include cancer of the cervix, vagina, vulva, anus, or penis. It can also cause cancers of the tongue, throat, and tonsils. HPV-related cancers can take years to decades to develop. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 17,000 women and 9,000 men in the U.S. are affected by HPV-related cancers.

How Does HPV Screening Work?

There is not a routine test to check for “HPV status;” however, screening is available to test for forms of HPV that are linked to a higher risk of cervical cancer. HPV screening can be done in conjunction with the Pap test used to detect cervical cancer. The test looks for the DNA of carcinogenic forms of HPV in the cervical cells.

Who is a Candidate of HPV Screening?

The current guidelines from the American Cancer Society recommend HPV screening in combination with a Pap test for all women age 30 years or older. Routine HPV screening is not currently recommended for younger women, since they are more likely to have an infection that will resolve on its own. HPV screening may also be recommended for women with Pap tests results showing atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance. The HPV DNA test is only available for females. Currently, there is not a HPV test that is recommended for males.

What to Expect

You should avoid sexual intercourse, vaginal creams or medications, and douching for a couple of days prior to your screening. It is also best to schedule the test for a time when you are not having your menstrual period. The procedure itself is really no different than a standard Pap smear.

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    HPV screening results are either negative or positive. A negative result means that you do not have a high-risk form of HPV. A positive result means that you do have a high-risk form of HPV, but it does not mean that you currently have cervical cancer.

    If your Pap and HPV results are normal, the doctor will recommend the appropriate schedule for routine retesting. If both the HPV and Pap results are abnormal, follow-up tests may be required to determine if you have cervical cancer. This may include a biopsy or colposcopy to examine the cervical cells more closely or a procedure to remove the abnormal tissue before it can develop into cancer.

    Preventing HPV Infection

    The best way for both males and females to protect against HPV-related cancers is to get the HPV vaccine between the ages of 11 and 12 years of age.