What is the HPV DNA Test?

Florence J. Tipton

The HPV DNA test is an examination performed on women to check for the human papillomavirus (HPV). A doctor usually orders this HPV test after abnormal cells in the cervix appear on a Pap smear. A HPV DNA test is a form of DNA (genetic material) testing that may reveal the types of HPV considered a high risk and linked to cervical cancer. The medical community accepts this type of DNA testing for HPV as an additional step to screen for cervical cancer.

An HPV DNA test is similar to a Pap smear.
An HPV DNA test is similar to a Pap smear.

HPV is a disease that men and women can get through sexual contact. HPV can manifest in the body as a number of different high-risk types. Doctors will order a HPV DNA test for women after an abnormal Pap test shows the presence of one of the high risk HPV types. HPV type 16 or 18 may lead to the possibility of a risk for cervical cancer. Men are not given the HPV DNA test, although they are also susceptible to getting a genital HPV infection.

An HPV DNA test can be used to identify types of HPV that put a woman at increased risk for cervical cancer.
An HPV DNA test can be used to identify types of HPV that put a woman at increased risk for cervical cancer.

Most people who have HPV do not show signs of symptoms. When symptoms to manifest, the most visible symptom is genital warts, but this does not require HPV DNA testing for detection. A physical exam usually reveals the presence of genital warts.

DNA tests use a sample of cells for analysis.
DNA tests use a sample of cells for analysis.

During the procedure for a HPV DNA test, which is similar to the Pap test, a sample of cells is collected for analysis. Abnormal cervical cells may not indicate cancer, but rather the presence of a genital HPV infection. Presently, no treatment exists for a HPV infection, but there are treatments for cervical cancer, changes to cervical cells and genital warts. The HPV vaccine may prevent the onset of cervical cancer.

The HPV DNA test is an additional step to screen for cervical cancer.
The HPV DNA test is an additional step to screen for cervical cancer.

Further testing might be necessary if a HPV DNA test shows abnormal cells or that one of the high-risk HPV types is present. Doctors may recommend a colposcopy, which uses a magnifying tool to look at abnormal cells on the cervix and vagina for a proper diagnosis. A cervical biopsy is another test that removes a tissue sample from the cervix. Either one of these tests may determine whether or not cancer of the cervix is present.

The presence of HPV does not automatically lead to an infection or cancer. In some women, changes to abnormal cervical cells will improve naturally without treatment. This is generally why women younger than 30 are not given the HPV DNA test when abnormal cervical cells are revealed during a Pap smear.

HPV is best known as the virus responsible for genital warts, which may be contracted despite condom use.
HPV is best known as the virus responsible for genital warts, which may be contracted despite condom use.

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