Introduction of HPV Testing


What is Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

There are over 100 types of HPV, most of which are harmless to humans. About 13 types are associated with cervical cancer and these are often termed ‘high risk’ types. Most people who become infected with HPV do not have symptoms and do not even know they have it. HPV is spread by close skin to skin contact.

The link between high risk HPV (HR-HPV) infection and cervical cancer is clearly established with over 99% of cervical cancers containing HPV DNA. Women with no evidence of HR- HPV infection are extremely unlikely to develop cervical cancer in the short to medium term.

Infection with HPV is very common, but in most cases the infection is cleared naturally by the body’s immune system. It is only when the virus persists that a woman is at increased risk of cervical abnormalities and cervical cancer.

Why test for HPV?

Only 15-20% of women with a low grade screening result (borderline or mild dyskaryosis) will have an abnormality that needs treatment. Testing for HR-HPV will help to identify which women are most likely to need treatment. HR-HPV testing is being introduced to the screening programme on samples that are reported as low grade. If HR-HPV is found in her sample, the woman will be referred to colposcopy without the need for further smears. If there is no HR-HPV present, the woman can safely be followed up in 3-5 years time with her next smear test. <

Women who have already had treatment for cervical abnormalities may also be tested for HR-HPV at their follow-up smear six months after treatment.

Further information is included in our patient leaflets.

How is the HPV Test done?

The HR-HPV test is carried out on the sample already taken during the screening test, so there is no need for another smear to be taken.