Medical questions & health advice by licensed doctors
"How is an HPV cancer screening performed?"
I am 21 and taking my first trip to the gynecoligist. I am told they will check me for HPV. How is this test performed?
The reason HPV (human papilloma virus) is tested is because the vast majority of cervical cancers are linked to HPV infection. Pap smears are conducted at age 21 or within 3 years of starting sexual intercourse as a way of screening for changes in the cervix that are concerning for cancer or for the development of cancer. Pap smears are recommended on an annual basis at least until the age of 30, after which point some doctors may allow spacing out to every 2 years if a woman is in a stable relationship and has not had any recent abnormal results.
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HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease, and its transmission is very common in the younger population. The infection may be entirely asymptomatic, may cause the formation of some warts, or may lead to cervical cancer (if it is a high-risk type of virus). In women in their 20s, usually HPV is not specifically tested for unless the Pap smear results are abnormal. This is because infection in the 20s is so common and most of the time it is cleared by the body spontaneously without any ill effect. The HPV test can be conducted from the Pap smear sample itself, which prevents a woman from having to return to provide a second sample in this case.
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