Health Services

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

What is human papillomavirus?
Human papillomavirus (also called HPV) causes a common infection that one person can give to another person during sex. There are many types of HPV. Some types of HPV cause genital warts. Other types of HPV are connected with cancer of the cervix. You may not know that your cervix is infected with HPV until a Pap test shows abnormal cells. When you have a Pap test (or "smear"), the healthcare provider scrapes some cells from your cervix and looks at them under a microscope.

Who should have a test for HPV?
An abnormal Pap test doesn't mean that you have a disease of the cervix. But when your Pap test isn't normal, your healthcare provider may want you to get a test for HPV. The healthcare provider may use the HPV test results to help decide if you should have a colposcopy exam. (A colposcope is a special magnifying lens that is used to look at your cervix.).

What do the test results mean?
If the test shows that you don't have HPV infection, you probably don't have a precancerous change on your cervix. A precancerous change is a cell change that might lead to cancer (but it might not). Your healthcare provider may want you to get another Pap test in 4 to 6 months, just to keep watching for a problem. If the HPV test shows that you do have HPV on your cervix, your healthcare provider may want you to have a colposcopic exam. Many women with HPV infection have an abnormal colposcopic exam. If you do have HPV infection, your healthcare provider may want you to have a biopsy. The healthcare provider will cut a small bit of tissue from your cervix and check it for signs of cancer.

HPV is an infection that may last for a long time. HPV does clear in most women within a few years of exposure. However, as long as you have evidence of HPV infection, you will need to have regular and frequent Pap tests, to keep watching for signs of cancer. Your healthcare provider may want you to have Pap tests every 6 months to check the status of the HPV infection.

Revised 05/05