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How to test for HPV

Medically reviewed by William Ross Perlman, PhD, CMPP on December 3, 2019. Written by Libby Pellegrini. 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.

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HPV (also known as Human papillomavirus) is a virus that is highly specific to humans. There are as many as 150 strains of HPV [1] and they can cause a range of infection types, from genital warts to precancerous and cancerous cells in the cervix, anus, mouth, and throat.

According to the CDC, HPV is the most common type of sexually transmitted infection, currently affecting 79 million Americans [2]. The body is typically capable of clearing an HPV infection, including warts or genital HPV infection, on its own within 12–24 months [3], but when the infection lingers it can cause problems. In fact, HPV infections are associated with the vast majority of cervical cancer cases.

Is there a test for HPV?

Yes there is, and given the pervasiveness of this virus, an HPV test for women can be a helpful way to assess HPV status and—ultimately—cervical cancer risk.

If you are wondering how to get tested for HPV, there are multiple ways. Routine cervical screening via pap smears (which check for abnormal cells) used to be the only way to assess cervical cancer risk, but HPV screening with DNA sequencing technology now offers a less invasive, more comfortable option.

Read on to discover how to test for HPV, which you can do using the Everlywell at-home HPV Test for women.

How do you get HPV?

HPV is transmitted through oral, vaginal, and anal sexual contact with a person who is infected with the virus. Not all individuals with HPV have symptoms, so it’s important to use protection if you have not been tested. Therefore, HPV can spread through the population via unprotected sexual intercourse [4]. Skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity (such as hand-to-genital or mouth-to-genital contact) is also a potential means of transmission.

How do I know if I have HPV?

Unfortunately, HPV is a tricky virus and many people with oral or genital HPV have no signs or symptoms at all. The presence of genital warts is the most common symptom of genital HPV.

What are the implications of having HPV?

While not all cases cause HPV complications, certain types of the HPV virus are highly associated with the development of cervical cancer. These strains are called “high-risk.” Two strains, in particular, are responsible for up to 70 percent of cervical cancer cases: strain HPV 16 has been detected in 50 of these cases, and strain HPV 18 has been detected in 20 percent of cervical cancer cases [5].

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women worldwide, accounting for 260,000 cancer deaths annually [6].

What if there was a way to test for HPV from home? With the Everlywell HPV Test for women, you can. Of course, be sure to check with your healthcare provider whether they still recommend that you take a pap test.

How can you get tested for HPV?

Here’s how to test for HPV in women

Traditionally, the only way to assess for possible HPV infection was with a Papanicolaou (Pap) smear, an assessment of a sample of cells taken from the cervix and vagina during a pelvic exam [7]. The cervical sample is examined under a microscope to look for abnormal cells. A Pap cervical screening test can be subjective depending on who is looking through the microscope for abnormal cells (and is also dependent on collecting enough cervical cells for evaluation). HPV DNA testing was later added to the Pap smear (known as co-testing) as an equally effective method of screening for cervical cancer risk.

However, in 2018, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) updated its recommendations for cervical cancer screening and added that primary high-risk HPV (hrHPV) testing alone (without a Pap screening) every 5 years is an appropriate alternative to the Pap smear or co-testing [8].

The recommendation from the USPSTF for the new HPV test stipulates that primary hrHPV screening is only appropriate for women over age 30 who have a normal immune system. For women under age 30, primary hrHPV testing may result in the detection of transient infections and unnecessary further testing through a pap test.

Is there a blood test for HPV?

In the US, there are no approved methods of at-home testing for HPV in the blood, urine, anus, or mouth; the only approved HPV test is for cervical cancer screening via a swab, which examines vaginal and cervical cells.

What is at-home HPV testing?

The Everlywell at-home HPV test checks for 14 high-risk HPV genotypes, including the two most high-risk strains, 16 and 18. It also makes information-gathering easy and convenient, and saves you from the uncomfortable traditional Pap testing. Simply follow the instructions included with our HPV testing kit to collect a sample (vaginal swab) in the privacy and comfort of your own home and then pop it in the mail. You will receive a digital result within days without having to go to a doctor’s for your cervical screening.

How common is HPV?

A 2013-2014 survey of HPV prevalence within the US population found that 40 percent of US women were infected with some form of HPV during the survey time [9]. While there is an HPV vaccine available, it does not cover all different high risk HPV types. In other words, even if you have gotten the HPV vaccine, that does not mean you are fully protected.

Some facts about HPV

  • The new USPSTF recommendations that endorse primary HPV screening alone are based on a landmark 2018 study that found that this method may be even more effective than the traditional Pap smear alone [10].
  • Having a low-risk HPV strain may make you more susceptible to the development of genital warts, known as Condylomata acuminata. Though they are obnoxious, the body is very good at clearing this type of genital wart. In fact, one-third of these warts will regress without treatment within four months [11].

Test for HPV from the convenience and privacy of home

HPV testing at home

If you don’t know how to test for HPV from home, Everlywell can help: our at-home HPV testing option is quick and easy. To test for HPV from the convenience and comfort of home, order the Everlywell HPV test (shipping is free).

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