Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD on March 15, 2021. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
HPV, or human papillomavirus, is the most common virus that can lead to certain types of cancer. While anyone who is sexually active can contract it, some people are at a higher risk than others. That’s why it's important to be aware of the recommended guidelines for HPV testing. Read on for the most up-to-date HPV testing guidelines for various age groups.
Screening for HPV without leaving your house just got easier. Shop the Everlywell at-home HPV Test and get access to everything you need to gain insight into your risk of getting cervical cancer. The process is simple: you collect your own sample at home, send it to a lab for testing (shipping is free), and get your easy-to-understand digital results in a few days.
Before we dive into the recommended screening guidelines, let’s first dissect what HPV testing is for and why it’s so important.
An HPV test screens for human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that—depending on the HPV strain—can increase the risk of cervical cancer. The majority of HPV types are not associated with cervical cancer risk and are commonly eliminated from the body over time without any medical intervention. However, certain strains of HPV—appropriately named “high-risk” HPV strains (or genotypes)—are significant risk factors for cervical and other types of cancer.
Cervical cancer is often preventable if it's caught at an early stage, which is why routine HPV testing and/or Pap smears is important: it offers a chance to understand if you are at a higher risk of cervical cancer so you can seek treatment early to protect your health.
While HPV tests and Pap smears are done with the same goal in mind (determining if someone is at an especially high risk of cervical cancer), they test for different things. A Pap test looks for abnormal cells that can lead to cancer in the cervix, while an HPV test looks for molecular traces of human papillomavirus (HPV) in the body.
One other major difference between HPV testing and Pap smears? HPV testing is possible using self-collected vaginal samples (using a vaginal swab) that can then be sent to a laboratory for analysis. That’s how the Everlywell at-home HPV Test works, for example.
On the other hand, as part of the Pap smear process you can expect the following:
If you are scheduled to have a Pap smear in the next 2 days, here are some tips for how to prepare for your exam:
Here is a breakdown of the screening recommendations for both HPV testing and Pap smears.
The CDC recommends getting your first Pap smear at age 21. If your results are normal, your physician may tell you to wait 3 years until your next test. Follow their recommended testing cadence from age 21-29.
If you are age 35-65, talk to your healthcare provider about which testing option is right for you:
The results from your HPV test will come back as either positive or negative:
As with any screening test, an HPV test carries the risk of false-positive or false-negative results, although this is rare.
Depending on your test results, your healthcare provider may recommend one of the following as a next step:
The at-home HPV Test from Everlywell will, with greater than 99% accuracy, tell you if you are infected with a high-risk type of HPV (for 14 different genotypes) and whether or not that infection is due to HPV 16 or HPV 18/45.
Want to test for HPV without having to leave your home? Shop the Everlywell HPV Test to get an easy-to-use, at-home collection kit that includes everything you need for collecting a vaginal swab and sending it to a lab for HPV testing. You get your digital results in days and in the event that your test results are abnormal, you’ll have the opportunity to connect with our independent physician network at no additional cost to discuss your particular case.
1. What Should I Know About Screening?. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed March 15, 2021.
2. Cervical cancer. NHS UK. URL. Accessed March 15, 2021.
3. HPV test. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed March 15, 2021.
4. ACS’s Updated Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines Explained. National Cancer Institute. URL. Accessed March 15, 2021.