HPV testing is now an integral part of the Cervical Screening Programme. The screening programme aims to reduce the number of women who develop invasive cervical cancer and the number of women who die from it. It does this by regularly screening women between the ages of 25 and 64, so that conditions that might otherwise develop into invasive cancer can be identified and treated.
What is HPV?
HPV stands for Human Papilloma Virus. It is a very common infection and most people 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.
HPV testing in women with borderline or mild dyskaryosis.
If your screening smear result shows mild abnormalities (called borderline or mild dyskaryosis) an HPV test will be carried out on the sample. If your smear shows borderline or mild dyskaryosis you 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 if you might need treatment. If HPV is found on your smear you will be invited to go for colposcopy. This involves looking closely at the cervix to see whether any treatment is needed. If it is you may be offered treatment at your first visit.
HPV testing in women who have received treatment for CIN
If you undergo treatment you will be screened once again around six months after your treatment. If the result is normal, borderline or mild the sample will be tested for HPV. If HPV is not found on your screening test you will not need to be screened for another three years. If HPV is found, or if the screening result shows moderate or worse changes, you will be invited for colposcopy again. You will then be treated or (if treatment is not needed) monitored in line with the national guidelines covering women who have had colposcopy.