Human Papillomavirus Testing
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Human Papillomavirus Testing

(HPV Testing; Testing, HPV; Testing, Human Papillomavirus)

En Español (Spanish Version)


This is a test to detect human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection. HPV is the major risk factor for cervical cancer . HPV is also the cause of genital warts. Testing may include:

The HPV test is approved to detect subtypes of HPV on a woman's cervix. Currently, there is no test to screen men for this condition.

Parts of the Body Involved

  • Vulva
  • Vagina
  • Cervix (the lower, narrow end of a woman’s uterus)


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Reasons for Procedure

Your doctor may test you for HPV if your Pap smear is inconclusive or shows abnormal cells. The test can also be done as part of your screening.

There are many subtypes of HPV. Some can cause genital warts, while others are associated with cervical cancer. An abnormal Pap smear does not always mean that you have a cervical disease.

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

  • Before the test, avoid the following:
    • Scheduling the test during your menstrual period
    • Use vaginal creams, medications, or douches for 72 hours before the test
    • Using contraceptives such as spermicidal foams, creams, or jellies for 72 hours before the test
    • Douching or having sexual intercourse for 24 hours before the test
    • Using vaginal creams, diaphragms, or tampons for 24 hours before the test
  • To be more comfortable, urinate before the test.



Description of the Procedure

This is similar to a pelvic exam and a Pap smear. You will lie on your back with your legs spread and your feet placed in foot rests. A medical instrument, called a speculum, will be gently inserted into the vagina and opened so that the doctor can view the cervix. A swab is inserted into the vagina and used to wipe the walls of the cervix. The swab is then placed in a tube and sent to the lab. If the lab finds HPV, the doctor will know what kind you have.

How Long Will It Take?

  • Less than five minutes for the test, but it may take 2-3 weeks to get the results

Will It Hurt?


Possible Complications


Average Hospital Stay


Postoperative Care

This will depend on the outcome of your test.


Results of the HPV test may take 2-3 weeks. Your doctor will talk to you about the results and if you need more tests or treatments.

If you do not HPV (a negative test result), then it is unlikely that you have a precancerous cell change on your cervix. Precancerous changes may or may not lead to cancer. You may need a Pap smear in 4-6 months to check for any problems.

A positive test result means that you have HPV. Depending on the type of HPV, you may have an increased risk of developing cervical cancer. Your doctor may want you to have a colposcopy. This procedure uses a special microscope to view the cervix. During that time, your doctor may also take a biopsy (tissue sample) from your cervix to check for cancer.


If you have genital warts, your partner also needs to be treated. You should return to your doctor in a few weeks, then do self-exams. If the warts come back, you will need to treatment again.

If you or your partner has a history of genital warts, you may need a Pap smear every six months. If you have an active case of warts, then you may need the test every three months after the first treatment.


Keep in mind that:

  • As with all sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), abstinence is the only 100% effective way to avoid getting infected.
  • Having a monogamous relationship with a healthy partner is the most practical way of avoiding STDs.
  • Condoms are recommended, but they cannot completely protect you. This is because HPV can be spread from skin-to-skin contact, where the condom may not cover.
  • HPV can be spread even when there are no visible warts or other symptoms. The condition can be present for years with no symptoms.

Call Your Doctor If Any of the Following Occurs

  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Vaginal bleeding between menstrual periods or after menopause
  • Bleeding after intercourse
  • Foul vaginal odor, pain, or unusual vaginal discharge
  • Severe abdominal pain or swelling


American Cancer Society

Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Sex Information and Education Council of Canada


Genital HPV infections—CDC fact sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: Updated April 2008. Accessed June 9, 2008.

HPV and abnormal cell changes. American Social Health Association website. Available at: Accessed on February 7, 2003.

HPV and men—CDC fact sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: . Accessed February 20, 2008.

Human papillomavirus testing. American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: . Accessed on February 7, 2003.

What men need to know about HPV. Digene HPV Test website. Available at: . Accessed February 20, 2008.

Last reviewed January 2008 by Jeff Andrews, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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