What is HPV?
HPV stands for Human Papilloma Virus. It is a very common infection and most women get it at some time in their life. In most cases it clears up by itself without the need for treatment. There are many types of HPV. Most are harmless but some can cause abnormalities in the cervix and are known as ‘high-risk’ HPV types. These abnormalities often clear up without treatment when the virus clears. But in some women the virus persists, placing them at greater risk of developing cervical abnormalities (CIN) which may need treatment.
How do people get HPV?
HPV is a very common infection among people who have been sexually active at some time in their life. It is easily transmitted during sex between men and women and between partners of the same sex. The virus shows no symptoms, so it is possible that:
- someone may have had the infection for many years without knowing about it
- a partner may have been infected years earlier and, again, be unaware of it
Why might I be tested for HPV?
HPV testing in women with borderline or mild dyskaryosis If a woman’s screening result shows mild abnormalities (called borderline or mild dyskaryosis) an HPV test will be carried out on her sample. Women with borderline or mild dyskaryosis have only a 15–20% chance of having an abnormality significant enough to need treatment.
The HPV test is important because the presence or absence of HPV indicates which women might need treatment. If HPV is found in her sample the woman will be invited to go for colposcopy.
Colposcopy involves looking closely at the cervix to see whether any treatment is needed. If it is, she will normally be seen in an Outpatients Clinic, which means that there is no need to stay in hospital overnight.
HPV testing in women who have received treatment for CIN
If colposcopy reveals CIN (mild abnormality in cervical cells)and the woman has been treated for it, she will be screened once again around six months after her treatment. If the result is normal, borderline or mild the sample will be tested for HPV. If HPV is not found she will not need to be screened for another three years.
If HPV is found, or if the screening result shows moderate or worse dyskaryosis (precancerous cells in cervix), the woman will be invited for colposcopy again. She will then be treated or (if treatment is not needed) monitored in line with the national guidelines covering women who have had a colposcopy.
How is the HPV test done?
The test can be done using the sample of cells taken during the screening test (pap smear), so there is no need to be screened again.