Self-administered HPV Test: Top 10 Medical Innovations 2017
How to Test for HPV
The human papillomavirus, or HPV, is an extremely common sexually transmitted infection. It often clears spontaneously without treatment, but it sometimes progresses to cervical cancer, which may be fatal. Fortunately, we have tests which can detect this virus very early on and prevent most cases of cervical cancer. This article will describe how to test for HPV.
The Pap Test
Understand the test.The Papanicolaou smear, or "pap smear" is a test used by a doctor to detect early signs of changes in the cells that line the cervix. The cervix is the passage that connects the vagina to the uterus, and any changes in its lining may suggest HPV infection.
Understand how the test is administered.This test is typically administered by a gynecologist (although it can be performed by any physician) with the help of an assistant.
- The doctor inserts a thin, duck-bill shaped instrument called the "speculum" inside the vagina to hold it open.
- A small brush (which looks similar to a mascara brush) or small spatula is inserted into the opening and brushed against the cervix in order to pick up cells.
- The brush is then stirred into a preservative fluid or spread onto a slide and examined under a microscope to look for abnormal, or "pre-cancerous" cells.
Know what to expect during the exam.The test is sometimes uncomfortable, but it shouldn't cause pain. Usually the most uncomfortable part is the initial insertion of the speculum. It is also a brief test, usually less than a minute, although the doctor may need a few extra moments to get a clear view of the cervix.
Know when to get the test.
- Every woman should start to get regular pap tests at the age of 21, regardless of whether they have been sexually active. Likewise, a woman who is sexually active but not yet 21 need not start getting pap tests.
- Get a pap test every 3 years until age 29. Afterwards, you may get the test less frequently if administered alongside the HPV test (see below).
The HPV test
Understand the test.Unlike the pap test, the HPV can directly detect the presence of HPV. However, it cannot detect any damage that the virus, if present, may already have inflicted upon the cervix (which the pap test can do).
Understand how the test is administered.The test is administered similarly to the pap test by using a small brush to collect cells during a speculum exam.
Know when to get the test.Usually women do not need to get an HPV test before the age of 30. This is because the body can often fight off an HPV infection on its own. After age 30, it is recommended that women get an HPV test in addition to a pap smear every 5 years.
Abnormal Results of HPV screening
Understand the results.HPV screening may be completely negative, or it may suggest either the presence of the virus (as with the HPV test) or changes in the cells of the cervix (as with the pap test).
Understand the next step.
- You may need follow-up testing after a positive test. This may include another pap test or an HPV test after 6 months to 1 year.
- You may also need a test called a colposcopy after a positive test. This is a simple procedure in which the doctor will look at the cervix with a device that magnifies the cervix and allows for a more detailed examination. The doctor may also take a small sample of the tissue in the cervix, called a "biopsy," which will later be examined under the microscope.
HPV Testing in Older Women
Know if it's OK to stop getting tested after age 65.Typically, women can stop getting tested after the age of 65, provided that they have been getting tested regularly and have had normal results in the last 10 years.
Know if it's OK to stop getting tested after a hysterectomy.Women who have had their uterus removed can usually stop getting pap tests, unless part of their cervix remains (i.e. after a "sub-total" hysterectomy) of if they had their uterus removed because of cervical cancer or pre-cancer.
If I have genital warts, does that mean I have HPV?
Can I have sex with other people if my HPV status is unknown? Say I *may* have been exposed to it but do not know.
How is the test given to men?
- Make sure to get tested regardless of your immunization status. While getting the HPV vaccine does reduce your risk of acquiring the infection, it cannot completely prevent it.
- If you have an appointment to get a pap test for HPV that happens to fall during your period, don't skip the appointment. Menstruation will not affect the results of HPV screening.
- It is not necessary to refrain from using tampons or vaginal creams or from having sex before getting a pap test for HPV. Like your period, these will not affect the results of the HPV screening.
- If you are having a pap smear done to test for cervical cancer (in addition to HPV) or are just having a routine pelvic exam, it is important that you are not on your period, have not had sex, or inserted any foreign material (douche, creams, tampons, etc.) into the vagina for at least 3 days prior. Unlike the HPV test, which only looks for the virus, the typical pap smear searches for any abnormal cells and can result in a false positive.
Video: Video Q&A about HPV-related Tongue and Tonsil Cancer
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