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The human papillomavirus DNA test detects whether a person has HPV, the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that approximately 79 million Americans have at least one type of HPV. Some strains of the virus increase the risk of serious health issues, including genital warts and cervical cancer.
Women over 30 years of age with atypical squamous cells in their Pap test results receive this test. There is no test available for men, but men are at risk of passing the virus to their partners through oral, vaginal, or anal sex. It’s possible to transmit HPV even if you have no symptoms of the virus.
Any sexually active person is at risk of getting HPV. In some cases, symptoms do not develop for years after infection.
HPV Linked to Genital Warts and Cancer
For many people, HPV viruses resolve on their own. Some people never even know they have the virus. Health risks arise when the virus does not go away. The most common first indication someone has HPV is the development of genital warts.
HPV is also linked to cancer.
The most common type of cancer caused by HPV is cervical cancer. Additionally, it is linked to cancer of the vagina, vulva, penis, anus, and throat. The presence of genital warts does not increase a person’s risk of cancer. The type of HPV linked to cancer is different than the type linked to cancer.
It’s impossible to detect whether or not someone will eventually develop cancer when they have HPV. There is evidence that people with compromised immune systems have a higher risk of developing health concerns once they contract HPV.
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How Do I Avoid Contracting the Human Papillomavirus?
The best way to avoid contracting HPV is to abstain from sexual activity. If you are sexually active, use condoms and limit activity to one partner. Condoms are not 100 percent effective for preventing the spread of HPV, but they reduce your risk.
Cervical cancer screenings are also important for women aged 21 to 65. These prevent or allow early intervention and treatment should cancer cells develop.
A vaccination is available for HPV. The vaccine protects recipients against complications linked to the virus. The vaccine is recommended for all boys and girls aged 11 to 26 years of age. Some people choose to get the vaccine after age 26, but it is not as effective for older recipients.
There is no test to determine someone’s HPV “status.”
Cervical cancer screenings are available for women age 30 and older. There is no test available for men. This means someone can have HPV for years without realizing it. Some never realize they have it unless they pass it on to a partner.
There is also no treatment for HPV. However, treatment is available for the complications linked to HPV.
There is a test that evaluates a person’s risk level for HPV. The test looks for pieces of DNA in cervical cells and tells someone if they have the higher risk strain of the virus.
This test is available as a primary HPV test or during a Pap test as a co-test. Your doctor will discuss with you which of these tests is most appropriate for you.
Both of these tests are effective for finding cancer and pre-cancer cells. The primary test is better at preventing cervical cancer than a traditional Pap test. Regardless of which test you use, regular screenings for cervical cancer are important.
Does a Positive HPV Test Mean I Have Cancer?
No, but it means your risk of developing cancer is greater.
To determine your risk of developing cervical cancer, your doctor will evaluate your past test results and your current HPV DNA test results. A positive test helps you undergo a more stringent evaluation and, if necessary, pre-cancer treatment.
You and your doctor should discuss your test results and determine the best course of follow-up evaluation and treatment based on your situation.
The HPV test is similar to the Pap test. Your doctor takes samples of your cervical cells and submits them for testing. The procedure is painless for nearly everyone, but there might be some pressure from the insertion of the speculum that exposes the cervix.
There are no restrictions after the test and you’re free to go about your usual routine and activities.
What are the Risks of the Human Papillomavirus DNA Test?
The risk of undergoing the HPV DNA test is getting a false or misleading result.
A false-positive test indicates a high risk of developing cancer when you do not have an increased risk. In this case, you face unnecessary follow-up procedures. Your doctor might unnecessarily order a biopsy or colposcopy.
A false-negative test indicates you don’t have an HPV infection when you do. A false-positive delays important follow-up procedures and treatment. It also puts you at risk for unknowingly spreading the virus.
Interpreting the Results of an HPV DNA Test
A positive HPV test result means you have a higher risk strain of the HPV virus. It means your risk of developing cervical cancer is higher.
A positive test does not mean you have cervical cancer but it does mean you are more likely to develop cervical cancer. This allows you and your doctor to take a more aggressive approach to cancer screening.
A negative HPV test means you don’t have a strain of the virus associated with cervical cancer. You might still have HPV, but it’s a lower-risk strain of the virus.
What Should I Do If I Have a Positive HPV DNA Test?
There are several things you can do after a positive HPV test. You and your doctor will discuss the best course of action in your case.
The most common responses include:
- Colposcopy: a magnified examination of the cervix
- Biopsy: sample of cervical cells are examined for abnormalities or cancer
- Removal of abnormal cells: affected tissue is removed before it can develop into cancerous cells
- Cryotherapy: freezing of abnormal tissue
- Cone biopsy: removes part of the cervix
- Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP): removes cells using an electrical wire loop device
It’s also common for people with abnormal test results to receive a referral to a doctor who specializes in gynecological cancers. This ensures you get the best evaluation and treatment available.
Does HPV Cause Infertility
In most cases, an HPV infection does not lead directly to infertility. However, depending on the extent of complications and the treatments used, fertility issues could arise as a secondary or tertiary concern.
For some people, treatment does affect their ability to conceive or reach full-term with a pregnancy.
Cell removal changes your cervical mucus production. There is also a risk of stenosis, which is the narrowing of the opening of the cervix. In this case, sperm has a harder time reaching and fertilizing an egg. Some treatments also weaken the cervix. A weakened cervix puts you at risk of early-term delivery.
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“The HPV Test.” Www.cancer.org, www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/screening-tests/hpv-test.html.
“HPV Test - Mayo Clinic.” Mayoclinic.org, 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/hpv-test/about/pac-20394355.
CDC. “STD Facts - Human Papillomavirus (HPV).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019, www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv.htm.