The HPV Test

The most important risk factor for developing cervical cancer is infection with HPV. Doctors can test for the HPV types (such as high-risk) that are most likely to cause cervical cancer by looking for pieces of their DNA in cervical cells. The test can be done at the same time as a Pap test. You won’t notice a difference in your exam if you have both tests done.

The HPV test is most often used in 2 situations:

  • The HPV test can be used in combination with a Pap test to screen for cervical cancer (also called co-testing). The American Cancer Society recommends this combination for women 30 and older. The HPV test is not recommended for screening for cervical cancer in women under 30. That is because women in their 20s who are sexually active are much more likely (than older women) to have an HPV infection that will go away on its own. For these younger women, results of this test are not as significant and may be more confusing. For more information, see the American Cancer Society document HPV and HPV Testing.
  • The HPV test can also be used in women who have slightly abnormal Pap test results (ASC-US) to find out if they might need more testing or treatment.

Follow-up of HPV testing

If your Pap test result is normal, but you test positive for HPV, the main options are:

  • Repeat co-testing in one year
  • Testing for HPV types 16 or 18 (this can often be done on the sample in the lab). If the test result is positive, colposcopy would be recommended. If you test negative, you should repeat co-testing in one year.

If your Pap test result is abnormal, and you test positive for HPV, your health care provider will explain what other tests you might need.

Eifel P, Klopp AH, Berek JS, and Konstantinopoulos A. Chapter 74: Cancer of the Cervix, Vagina, and Vulva. In: DeVita VT, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA, eds. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2019.

Jhungran A, Russell AH, Seiden MV, Duska LR, Goodman A, Lee S, et al. Chapter 84: Cancers of the Cervix, Vulva, and Vagina. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier; 2020.

National Cancer Institute. Understanding Cervical Changes: Next Steps After an Abnormal Screening Test. 2019. Updated October 8, 2019. Accessed on November 1, 2019.


The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: January 3, 2020 Last Revised: January 3, 2020

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