Diagnosis of HPV

Because most people do not experience any problems associated with HPV infection, the virus usually is not diagnosed unless a health care provider screens for HPV or suspects the virus is causing another condition, such as genital warts or abnormal cell changes (e.g., cervical dysplasia) that could lead to cancer and tests for infection.

The HPV DNA test may be used in conjunction with the Pap test to screen for high-risk HPV in women over the age of 30. This test, which can detect HPV in cell DNA before changes to the cells occur, involves taking a sample of cervical cells and sending them to a laboratory for analysis. The HPV DNA test is not used routinely to screen for HPV in women who are younger than 30 years of age.

In April 2014, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first HPV test for primary cervical cancer screening in women 25 years and older. The cobas HPV test—first approved by the FDA in 2011 to be used in conjunction with, or as a follow-up to, the standard Pap test—provides information about future cervical cancer risk and can be used to determine if additional diagnostic testing for cervical cancer (colposcopy) is necessary.

The cobas HPV test detects DNA from 14 high-risk HPV types—HPV 16 and HPV 18 (responsible for about 70 percent of cervical cancer cases), and 12 others. Health care providers can use information from this test, along with the patient's medical history and personal risk factors for cervical cancer and current screening guidelines to ensure that HPV infection is detected early.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 27 May 2008

Last Modified: 24 Apr 2014