How Accurate is the HPV Test?

Whether you are going to get a human papillomavirus (HPV) screening for the first time or you are waiting for results, you are likely wondering about the accuracy of an HPV test. Those getting tested can rest assured that the HPV test is very accurate.


The HPV Test Versus the Pap Test


Although HPV has only been getting more attention during recent years, the test was developed decades ago and measures molecular signs to determine whether a virus is present. The machine used to administer it can accurately and easily identify these molecular signs and quickly deliver results.


The Pap test, on the other hand, requires a trained technician to study scrapings of a woman’s cervix. When studying this sample, the technician is looking for abnormal cells, so the accuracy of the Pap test depends on their skill, experience, and personal judgment. These tests are therefore subject to human error, whereas the HPV test is not. Results from an HPV test can also be returned in about half the time of Pap test results.


Understanding HPV Test Results


The HPV test does not show whether a person has cancer. Instead, it simply looks for the virus that can cause cervical cancer. Specifically, HPV 16 and 18 are known to increase a person’s risk of developing cervical cancer and can be prevented with a vaccine.


Getting tested for HPV is important, even for a person who has received the vaccine. If the virus turns up in a patient’s test results, their doctor can recommend steps to take to treat it, which could involve retesting, monitoring the situation, or treating abnormal or precancerous cells.


When to Get Tested


Most women under 30 do not have to be tested for HPV, and it is recommended that they do not undergo testing. HPV is very common among young women that are sexually active. However, these infections clear up on their own with no physical signs or symptoms present in most cases. Changes in the cervix that can lead to cancer typically take more than ten years to develop. For these reasons, doctors often choose to watch and wait instead of administering treatment for cervical cancer or HPV.


Ask Your Doctor about the Accuracy of HPV Tests


Regular and frequent testing is critically important in detecting and preventing cervical cancer in its early stages. Talk to your health care provider to learn more about the accuracy and benefits of HPV tests.