Should You Get HPV Testing?
Over the past year, ads for HPV testing have been popping up everywhere in women’s magazines and on TV. These ads serve as a supposed necessary reminder for women to ask their doctors to test them for HPV. So what is HPV testing? And, more importantly, do you need it?
HPV stands for Human Papilloma Virus. HPV is a ubiquitous sexually transmitted virus. There are two types of HPV:
- Low risk: causes warts and is generally harmless
- High risk: is involved in the transformation of healthy cervical cells into pre-cancerous cells
Research in the last 10- 15 years confirmed the importance of HPV in transforming normal cells in the cervix to abnormal pre-cancerous cells and, ultimately, cancerous cells. That same research also helped develop testing to detect HPV through pap testing. With that, HPV testing started in the marketplace, touting it as the most important part of a routine pap smear. So, is it really the most important part?
To be honest HPV testing only helps in the management of pap smear that come back normal or atypical. For abnormal, pre-cancerous pap results, it has no real value, since these abnormal paps will need more intense follow up and appropriate treatment. With a normal pap smear result, a positive HPV test result signals the need for monitoring and further testing. HPV testing also has no value for women under 30, because before that age the cervix is capable of repairing itself more efficiently.
So who needs HPV testing?
- Women over the age of 30 with no prior HPV testing
- Women over the age of 30 whose last HPV testing was negative and at least three years ago
- Women who change partners in between routine pap testing and have no previous positive HPV testing
If these situations do not apply to you, don’t worry about those ads!