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Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Test

What Affects the Test

Reasons you may not be able to have the test or why the results may not be helpful include:

  • The use of douches, tampons, and vaginal creams or vaginal medicines within 48 hours before the test.
  • A cervical cell sample that is too small.
  • Your Pap test shows abnormal cells that are already known to be caused by a high-risk type of HPV.

What To Think About

  • A human papillomavirus (HPV) test is not routinely used to diagnose genital warts. It is usually done to find out whether an abnormal Pap test result may be caused by one or more high-risk types of HPV. To learn more, see the topic Genital Warts (Human Papillomavirus).
  • An HPV test may be done along with a Pap test in women age 30 and older. It may be done as a follow-up test after treatment for an abnormal Pap test. To learn more, see the topic Abnormal Pap Test.
  • A positive HPV test does not mean that you have cervical cancer. It may mean that you are infected with one or more high-risk types of HPV, which increases your chance of having precancerous cervical cell changes. Your doctor may recommend repeat testing or further testing, such as a colposcopy and cervical biopsy, to find out whether precancerous changes are present. The type of testing recommended will depend on your medical history and the findings of the HPV test. To learn more, see the topic Colposcopy and Cervical Biopsy.
  • An HPV test is highly reliable for finding high-risk types of HPV. But an HPV test may come back positive when you do not have an HPV infection. This is called a false-positive test result.
  • An HPV test is done only for women. Currently, an HPV test for men is done only in a research setting.
  • If you are age 26 or younger, you can get the HPV shot. The vaccines Cervarix(What is a PDF document?) and Gardasil(What is a PDF document?) protect against two types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. Gardasil also protects against two types of HPV that cause genital warts. To learn more, see the topic Immunizations.

Other Works Consulted

  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2005, reaffirmed 2009). Human papillomavirus. ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 61. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 105(4): 905–918.

  • Chernecky CC, Berger BJ (2008). Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures, 5th ed. St. Louis: Saunders.

  • Pagana KD, Pagana TJ (2010). Mosby’s Manual of Diagnostic and Laboratory Tests, 4th ed. St. Louis: Mosby Elsevier.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Last Revised June 21, 2012
1 | 2 | 3

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: June 21, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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