The HPV DNA Test

The most important risk factor for developing cervical cancer is infection with HPV. Doctors can now test for the HPV (high-risk or carcinogenic types) 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 the Pap test, with the same swab or a second swab. You won’t notice a difference in your exam if you have both tests.

The HPV DNA test is most often used in 2 situations:

  • The HPV gene test can be used in combination with the Pap test to screen for cervical cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends this combination for women 30 and older. The HPV DNA test is not recommended to screen 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 DNA 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. See the section  Work-up of abnormal Pap test results.

An HPV DNA test has been approved by the FDA to be used without a Pap test to screen for cervical cancer.  

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 (with a Pap test and an HPV test) in one year
  • Testing for HPV types 16 or 18 (this can often be done on the sample in the lab). If the test is positive for types 16 or 18, colposcopy would be recommended (colposcopy is discussed in the section,  Work-up of abnormal Pap test results). If you test negative, you should get repeat co-testing in one year.

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: November 20, 2016 Last Revised: December 9, 2016

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