If we’re honest, we have to say that most women, if not all women, don’t really look forward to getting their Pap and HPV tests. The test itself can feel awkward for many. Then there is the issue with results. What happens if you test positive for HPV? First, we say don’t panic. Second, we say don’t ignore it. Having HPV is not as uncommon as you may think. About 80 million people in the U.S. currently test positive for it. In most cases, the immune system clears HPV before other concerns arise. The risk of cancer increases when the virus is not cleared from the body. We discuss the issue further here.
What is HPV?
HPV is the human papillomavirus. More than 100 strains of this virus exist, with very few of them linked to cancer. Some strains cause genital warts that go away with proper treatment, others are considered riskier. High-risk strains of HPV may cause cancers of the cervix, vagina, vulva, anus, neck, or head. Men are not immune, either. HPV may cause cancers of the penis, anus, neck, or head. The human papillomavirus lives on the skin. It can spread from one person to another during intimate contact, even when a condom is used.
The HPV Test
HPV screening is available to women and may be performed at the same time as the routine Pap. Starting at age 30, women may get their combination screening every five years. Before age 30, only a Pap is recommended at a schedule of every three years. The risk of an HPV infection is not lower in younger women. However, the younger immune system seems to be better at clearing it.
What if the Test is Positive?
A positive HPV test means that one or more of the high-risk strains of the virus has been detected on the cervix (via your Pap test). It is important to understand that a positive test translates into a very small risk of one of the various types of cancer this infection may cause. If you test positive for HPV, there is a very good chance that your immune system will clear it in a year or two.
- If your HPV test is positive and your Pap is normal, the next step may be a follow-up screening in one year vs five.
- If your HPV test is positive and your Pap is abnormal, the next step may be a colposcopy. This procedure looks more closely at the vulva, vagina, or cervix using a special microscope. It can identify abnormal cells that may require treatment.
The team at Huey & Weprin Ob/Gyn is here to help you navigate your health. To schedule a consultation and well-woman exam, call 937.771.5100. We are proud to serve the areas of Kettering and Englewood, OH.