Click here to view an infographic explaining the difference between HPV and Pap tests for cervical cancer screening.
Before you understand your human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer testing options, it’s important to know that getting the HPV vaccine is one of the best ways to prevent cervical cancer. HPV vaccination provides safe, effective, and long-lasting protection.1 Remember, screening remains important for cervical cancer prevention, even for women who have had the HPV vaccine.
Getting screened for HPV and cervical cancer is one of the most important things you can do for your health. All women above a certain age, even those in monogamous relationships or with the same long-term partner, need to be tested for HPV. A positive test result doesn't indicate when you got the infection or from whom, and some research suggests that HPV can lay dormant for some time.2 Testing positive is not a reflection on you, your partner or your lifestyle. So, while testing HPV positive doesn't necessarily mean you have, or will develop cervical cancer, it does mean you could be at an increased risk. It's important to know which HPV type you have to fully understand your risk.
Sharing information is a powerful way to build awareness around the topic of cervical cancer prevention. In the video below, Danielle shares her HPV and cervical cancer prevention story, in the hope that other women won't have to go through the same experience.
Even if you received the HPV vaccine, you should still be screened for cervical cancer. Although the available HPV vaccines cover some high-risk HPV types (including HPV 16 and HPV 18, the two highest risk types), they do not cover all high-risk HPV types. Therefore, experts still recommend that you continue to get screened regularly for cervical cancer even after you’ve received the vaccine.
For cervical cancer, there are primarily two types of screening tests that healthcare providers use today, the Pap test and/or the HPV test.
|An HPV Test||The Pap Test|
An HPV test detects the DNA of high-risk HPV at infection levels that have been demonstrated to cause high grade cervical disease or precancer. The sample needed for an HPV test is taken from the cervix by a healthcare provider the same way as a Pap test–which means you won't have to do anything different during your women's wellness exam to receive greater reassurance of your health. The sample is then sent to a lab to be tested for high-risk HPV on an automated instrument using molecular technology. HPV tests give an early, accurate look at your cervical cancer risk.
The Pap test has been in use for around 80 years; it looks for abnormal cells growing on the cervix that can be early signs of cancer. A healthcare provider collects cell samples from your cervix and sends the sample to a laboratory for examination under a microscope by a trained professional. However, a normal Pap result does not always mean cancer free: up to one-third of cervical cancers occurred in women with a normal Pap.10,11
You and your healthcare provider can discuss which cervical cancer screening test is right for you. Medical guidelines offer different ways that the HPV and Pap tests can be used depending on a number of factors such as the patient’s age and medical history. Different countries will make decisions around guidelines specific to their local decision-making and implementation process.
In the U.S. it is recommended that women start cervical cancer screening at 21 years of age. Most health plans cover checkups, which would include a Pap test. In the U.S., the Affordable Care Act (ACA) encourages health plans to cover high-risk HPV testing for women who are 30 years of age and older in addition to the Pap test.
Guidelines example, U.S. - updates in developmentView Full Table
Guidelines example, U.S. - updates in development
|21 - 29||Pap test every 3 years|
|30 - 65||Pap test every 3 years OR
HPV test every 5 years OR
Co-testing (Pap and HPV test) every 5 years12
The cobas® HPV test is used in cervical cancer screening to determine a woman's risk of precancer or cancer. The test provides three results in one: individual results for HPV 16 and HPV 18, in addition to a pooled result for 12 other high-risk HPV types. Having immediate information about your risk of cervical cancer can help you and your doctor determine what next steps to take. The cobas® HPV test is the first test approved by the FDA to be used as a first-line primary screening test for cervical cancer in women ages 25-65.
The sample collection process for the cobas® HPV test is exactly the same as it is for the Pap test. Your healthcare provider will use an instrument called a speculum to look into your vagina. Another device is then inserted to collect cell samples from the cervix. The samples are placed in a vial containing preservative fluid and sent to a laboratory for the HPV test.
To request the cobas® HPV test, simply ask your healthcare provider at your next visit to your clinic.
Depending on your HPV or Pap test result, you may be asked to come back later for repeat testing, or your healthcare provider may request more tests be run on your sample to further determine your risk for cervical disease. It may also be recommended that you come back for a colposcopy, to examine your cervix more closely. A colposcopy is an important step toward prevention after receiving abnormal test results. During a colposcopy, a doctor uses a colposcope (a lighted magnifying device) to see problems in the cervix that would be missed by the naked eye. A tissue sample or cervical biopsy may also be taken for laboratory analysis to determine if there are cellular changes indicating cervical precancer or cancer. After the procedure, it is normal to feel some soreness and have some vaginal bleeding or discharge.
Openly talking about HPV helps to make the topic less of a taboo.
Know Your Risk for Cervical Cancer is a Facebook community dedicated to increasing women’s awareness and knowledge about HPV, its role in cervical cancer, the importance of screening tests, and connecting with other women. Join our community of over 67,000 individuals dedicated to encouraging each other to be in control of their own health and wellness.
Some women feel that if they do not need a Pap or HPV test every year, they can skip their annual health exam. Even though your appointment may not require a Pap or HPV test, you should still visit your healthcare provider annually for a health exam to cover topics, such as:
A physical exam
Mammography and colonoscopy screening
Counseling on menopause and/or osteoporosis prevention
Exercise and nutrition
It’s important to ask your doctor questions so you can fully understand any health issues, exams and screening tests related to management of your health. Use our list of questions as a starting point for your discussion.
Cervical Cancer Screening
When should I be screened for cervical cancer?
Could I get an HPV test as part of my exam?
If I have been vaccinated for HPV, do I still need cervical cancer screening?
How often do you recommend I get an HPV test?
I want an HPV test that detects HPV 16 and 18, how do I get it?
If my results are positive, what is the next step?
Are there any brochures, websites or other materials that I can use to learn more about cervical cancer prevention?
Do I need any important shots?
How can I protect myself from HIV and other STIs?
Where can I get mental health help?
How can I get more physical activity?
What form of birth control is right for me?
How can I incorporate more healthy eating habits into my diet?
Given my family history, am I at a higher risk for certain diseases or illnesses?
Nobody should ever feel ashamed of a positive HPV result. By learning what your Pap and HPV test results mean, you will be better prepared to discuss next steps for cervical cancer prevention with your healthcare provider.
HPV screening can help your doctor identify if you are at risk for cervical cancer. If you receive a positive test result, it’s normal to feel anxious or worried. However, it’s important to remember that a positive HPV test result does not automatically mean that you already have, or will develop, cervical cancer. Talk to your doctor or nurse, who will discuss next steps with you.
It’s important to remember that abnormalities can usually be treated easily and successfully if detected early. If untreated there is a greater chance of developing cervical cancer.1
Screening with an HPV test alone
Screening with both an HPV test and Pap cytology together (Co-test)
*Your healthcare provider may also rely on additional information to assess risk, such as age, medical history and prior screening results
Certain abnormal results may lead to more aggressive patient management, including immediate treatment as appropriate
To learn more about biomarker dual-stain technology, and how CINtec® PLUS Cytology works, please visit our My Health My Future page.