HPV Tests and Pap Tests: How to Read These Test Results

HPV Tests and Pap Tests: How to Read These Test Results

Cervical cancer is caused by certain types of the human papillomavirus or HPV. It’s one of the leading causes of cancer death for women in the United States. But early detection and treatment can help prevent cervical cancer before it develops. The Pap test is a traditional test for early detecting abnormal cell changes in the cervix. Along with a Pap test, an HPV test can also be recommended for women age 30 and older. HPV tests can help identify high-risk types of HPV that result in cervical cancer. Here’s what you need to know about Pap and HPV tests and how to read these test results.

Pap tests: What do your Pap test results mean?

A pap test is also called a Pap smear or cervical smear. It’s used for recognizing abnormal cells in a woman’s mouth or cervix. Pap tests can also identify inflammation and infections of the vagina. That’s why they are recommended for screening cervical cancer.

Experts say that women age 21 and older should have a Pap test every 3 years. For those age 65 and over, they may no longer need Pap tests. Results from a Pap test can come back as normal, inconclusive or abnormal.

Normal or negative. If your Pap test results come back as normal, this means no cancerous cells are present in your cervix.

Inconclusive or unsatisfactory. This result means that your cells don’t look either normal or abnormal. But it can mean that there was an error when performing the test. For example, blood or mucus might affect the evaluation of cell changes in the cervix. Or, there were not enough cervical cells for performing an accurate test. Usually, 70% of women with unsatisfactory test results have no abnormal cervical cells.

Abnormal. If your Pap test results are abnormal, you might have cell changes caused by HPV. They can be mild, moderate or severe but don’t necessarily mean that you have cervical cancer. If these abnormal cells are not treated timely, they can progress into cancer over time.

Read more: 7 Scary Conditions Your Pap smear Doesn’t Test For

How to read Pap test results

Pap tests: How to read Pap test results

HPV tests: What do your HPV test results mean?

Like Pap tests, HPV tests are only available for women. Usually, they’re recommended if Pap test results are abnormal. HPV tests can’t recognize whether you have cervical cancer. But, they can identify the presence of HPV types that cause cervical cancer in your body.

HPV tests are recommended for women age 30 and older. They can be done at the same time as Pap tests. Women under age 30 should not have HPV tests as these aren’t helpful. HPV tests are recommended every five years.

HPV test results are reported as either positive or negative.

Positive. If your HPV test results come back as positive, this means there are high-risk HPV in your cervical cells. These types of HPV include HPV type 16 and HPV type 18. But having these HPV types doesn’t mean you have cervical cancer or you will get it.

Negative. Negative results for HPV means that you have no HPV in your cervical cells.

Read more: HPV Test: Tests & Procedures

How to read HPV test results

HPV tests: How to read HPV test results

What does it mean if you have a positive HPV test?

Many women have the same question that what happens if they have a positive test for HPV. Here’s the answer, according to experts:

If your HPV test is positive and your Pap test is normal, you should:

  • Have another Pap and HPV test in 1 year. If a Pap test is inconclusive or abnormal and a HPV test is positive, colposcopy. If a Pap test is normal and a HPV test is negative, get another Pap and HPV test in 3 years.
  • Test for HPV 16 or both HPV 16 and 18. If negative, get tested with a Pap test and an HPV test again in 1 year. If positive, get colposcopy.

If your HPV test is positive and your Pap test is unclear, get colposcopy.

If your HPV test is positive and your Pap test is abnormal, get colposcopy or immediate treatment.

Colposcopy is a procedure in which the doctor uses a microscope with a bright light to examine:

  • The cervix
  • The vagina
  • The vulva
Colposcopy is recommended if your HPV test is positive and your Pap test is abnormal or unclear

Colposcopy is recommended if your HPV test is positive and your Pap test is abnormal or unclear

Colposcopy can help identify the following abnormalities:

  • Precancerous changes in the cervix, vagina and vulva
  • Inflammation of the cervix
  • Genital warts

Apart from colposcopy, some tests can also be performed if your Pap test results are abnormal. These tests include:

  • Cervical biopsy
  • Cone biopsy
  • Colposcopy biopsy
  • Endo-cervical curettage
  • LEEP

Read more: Can You Get Genital Warts from a Toilet Seat

There are many different types of HPV. While some can cause genital warts, some can cause cervical cancer. To determine which types of HPV that you’ve contracted, see a doctor for testing. Pap tests and HPV tests are common tests for identifying HPV in women. For men, there are no available tests. So, educate yourself and consult a doctor to get more information about HPV and treatment.

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