Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"What tests exist that check for HPV?"
I'm a woman and I just turned 24. I'm thinking about getting the HPV vaccine, but it seems like first I should figure out whether I have HPV already. Is this even possible? I've asked people at the STD clinic whether they have an HPV test, and they hadn't even heard of it.
Human papilloma virus, or HPV, is the most commonly sexually transmitted infection. There are approximately 200 known types of the virus, 40 of which are transmitted sexually. While most do not cause any symptoms at all, some types can lead to the development of warts. Less commonly, but most importantly, some "high-risk" types can lead to cervical cancer. It is this last point that forms the rationale behind surveillance Pap smears and led the HPV vaccine to come into widespread use. Regardless of whether or not you have HPV already, it is recommended that you get the HPV vaccine. The vaccine protects against the high-risk virus types that are associated with cervical cancer, and may also protect against HPV-associated warts. Regarding the detection of HPV, this test is now in widespread use across the country, and is a major component of routine screening and follow-up for women with abnormal Pap smears. These tests detect DNA fragments of the virus itself, and can be done along with the Pap smear. Most medical societies recommend testing for HPV in women 20-30 years old to guide further treatment after an abnormal Pap smear. Additionally, some societies recommend using HPV testing routinely along with Pap smears for women over 30.