Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of related viruses that can cause different manifestations, including warts, and cancerous and precancerous lesions in different parts of the body. HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) around the world. HPV is so common that, according to MedlinePlus, nearly all sexually active people become infected with HPV soon after they start having sex.
Understandably, it’s important to be aware of different HPV testing methods so you can get tested for this STD regularly and understand your results. Keep reading to learn more about HPV testing procedures and when HPV screening should be done.
HPV testing procedures
How to test for HPV in females
Both men and women can catch different strains of HPV, but women are more likely to develop complications from the virus.
There are different types of HPV tests available. High-risk strains of HPV can cause cancer, while low-risk strains can cause warts. According to The New Zealand HPV Project, most HPV tests look for high-risk strains of HPV, such as HPV-16 and HPV-18.
Additional HPV DNA testing methods, such as HPV genotyping test can also be used to determine the specific strain of HPV causing an infection. Genotyping tests are usually more expensive and they can help guide the treatment of patients with HPV.
Unfortunately, HPV doesn’t show up in a blood test. An HPV throat test or oral swab will only show if you have oral HPV — which can lead to oropharyngeal cancer —, but it can’t be used to diagnose genital HPV.
How to test for HPV in males
Asymptomatic HPV is more common in males than females, and there isn’t a routine HPV screening test designed for men. According to the American Sexual Health Association, men are usually visually screened during a physical examination in order to identify warts or other lesions associated with HPV. This is done because HPV testing can lead to inconsistent results in men, and it’s difficult to get an adequate sample from the penis.
However, there is an exception. Anyone, male or female, who engages in receptive anal intercourse can get a rectal HPV test or Pap smear in order to screen for anorectal HPV, which can lead to warts and/or anal cancer.
How much does an HPV test cost?
The cost of an HPV test without insurance can vary a lot depending on where you get tested. For example, some nonprofit organizations and clinics offer free STD testing, while other healthcare organizations can charge anywhere between $50 to $150 for testing. Other tests, such as HPV genotyping and oral HPV tests will have different costs. Depending on where you live, you may have easy access to different testing locations.
If you have insurance, it’s very likely that your insurance plan will cover the cost of HPV testing. However, you should always check with your provider to confirm this information. Additionally, there are other options — such as at-home STD testing — that allow for accurate testing from the privacy of your own home.
HPV test result times will also vary depending on the type of test you’re getting and your provider. According to the CDC, you’ll usually get your results back anywhere from 1 to 3 weeks after the test.
Are at-home HPV tests available?
Yes! You can order an HPV home test kit from many online providers which offer fast and accurate results, provided that you take a good sample. At-home HPV tests require a vaginal or cervical swab which is quick and painless. After mailing the sample back to the provider, you’ll simply have to wait for your results to be ready.
Frequently asked questions: HPV diagnosis
How common is a false positive HPV test?
It’s difficult to determine just how common false positive HPV tests are. But according to the University of Michigan, up to 30 percent of co-testing results (using Pap smears along with HPV tests) can be false positives. HPV genotyping tests have a much lower rate of false positive results.
What causes a false positive HPV test?
A false positive doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t have HPV. In some cases, a false positive could be caused by the detection of a low-risk HPV strain that doesn’t lead to cancer. Other possible causes include recent genital infections or cervical trauma.
What is the difference between a Pap smear and an HPV test?
HPV tests and Pap smears are similar and can be performed simultaneously, but they detect different things. According to the Cleveland Clinic, Pap smears look for changes in the cells that could indicate precancerous or cancerous lesions. HPV tests, on the other hand, directly look for HPV DNa material inside the cells.
How long can HPV be undetectable?
Most people are able to clear the virus on their own and never develop any symptoms. In other cases, HPV can be dormant for many years — in fact, most cases of cervical cancer take 10 to 20 years to develop. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to predict who will clear the infection and who will develop warts or cancerous changes — as a result, it’s better to prevent long-term health complications by undergoing regular HPV screening.
You can learn more about at-home STD testing at STDWatch.com.
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HPV - medlineplus.gov
How do I know if I have got HPV? - hpv.org.nz
What do men know about HPV? - ashasexualhealth.org
What Should I Know About Screening? - cdc.gov
Harper tells NPR that, for women over 30, the HPV test alone may decrease rates of false positives, compared to combined Pap-HPV testing - medicine.umich.edu
HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) - my.clevelandclinic.org