Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), Cancer, HPV Testing, and HPV Vaccines : Frequently Asked Questions

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Testing for HPV

What’s the difference between a Pap test and an HPV test?

A Pap test is used to find cell changes or abnormal cells in the cervix. (These abnormal cells may be pre-cancer or cancer, but they may also be other things.) Cells from the cervix are removed, processed, and then looked at under a microscope to see if the cells are normal or if changes can be seen. The Pap test is a very good test for finding cancer cells and cells that might become cancer.

HPV is a virus that can cause cervix cell changes. The HPV test checks for HPV. The test can be done at the same time as the Pap test, with the same swab or a second swab. You will not notice a difference in your exam if you have both tests. A Pap test plus an HPV test (called co-testing) is the preferred way to find early cervical cancers or pre-cancers in women 30 and older.

Should you be tested for HPV?

If you have no history of HIV or genital cancer or pre-cancer, and are a woman age 30 or older, you should have an HPV test with your Pap test (co-testing) every 5 years until you are 65. Talk to your doctor or nurse about co- testing. You also may want to ask about the cost and if your health insurance will cover it. It’s also OK to continue just to have Pap tests every 3 years.

If you are under age 30

Women between ages 21 and 29 should have a Pap test every 3 years (at ages 21, 24, and 27). These women should not get the HPV test with the Pap test because HPV is so common in women these ages that it’s not helpful to test for it. But HPV testing may be used in this age group after an abnormal Pap test result.

The most common abnormal Pap test result seen is called ASC-US (your doctor may say this as “ask us”). ASC-US cells usually are not pre-cancer, but they are not quite normal either. If there are ASC-US cells in your Pap test result, one option is to do an HPV test to see if HPV is causing the cell changes. If HPV is found, you will need more tests.

In these cases the HPV test is used to make help decide if further testing is needed. This is not the same as using the HPV test with the Pap test as part of your normal health visit.

What about testing men?

There is no FDA-approved HPV test for men at this time.


Last Medical Review: 05/02/2013
Last Revised: 05/02/2013