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Most women carry HPV at some time in their life and it causes no symptoms. The body often clears the virus on its own before any problems occur. There is no way of knowing when you caught the virus as it can lay dormant for years. In women 30 years and older, HPV testing is a helpful and more advanced way of assessing your risk for developing cervical abnormalities or cervical cancer along with the traditional smear test. For women under the age of 30, the virus is often present, but does not persist to cause problems, and testing for the virus if your smear test is normal, is not recommended.

We recommend screening for “high risk” types of HPV only. It is important to remember that having a positive HPV test does not mean you will get cancer, but it increases your risk of the disease so it is important you attend all your cervical screening invitations.

Why have cervical smears?

Around 1000 women die from cervical cancer in England each year*. This is a very sad statistic as cervical cancer can be prevented in many cases. Cervical smears detect changes in the cells of the cervix, the mouth of the womb. These changes often turn out to be nothing, but in some cases, can progress to cervical cancer. In the NHS, it is recommended to have cervical smears every 3 years between the ages of 25 and 50 and every 5 years thereafter. We offer cervical smears to all females aged 20 and above.

What does the test involve?

A cervical smear test takes about five minutes. An instrument is inserted in your vagina to gently hold it open. A nurse or doctor will use a small brush to take a sample of some cells on your cervix. The sample will be sent to a laboratory for examination under a microscope.

We screen the cells themselves for abnormalities and in women above the age of 30, for high risk types of the HPV virus inside the cells. Between the ages of 20 and 30, we screen all smears where the cells appear abnormal for high risk HPV.

How soon can I have this test after unprotected sex?

It is not clear how long an HPV infection takes to develop and therefore, no recommendations about the best time to have the test after having unprotected sex. It is important to have regular cervical smears and to attend when invited.

How do I prepare?

Smears cannot be taken during a menstrual period and the best time to have one is around the middle of your cycle. We recommend that you avoid using spermacides, lubricants, pessaries and ointments for a few days before the test.

How soon will I have a result?

Your result will be back in 5-10 working days. Our Doctor will be in touch with the results as soon as it becomes available.

What if I test positive?

It is important to remember that having a positive HPV test does not mean you will get cancer. HPV can your risk of the disease, so it is important you attend all your cervical screening invites. Our Doctor will provide you with a copy of your results to show your GP or Practice Nurse.

If your test is negative:

This is reassuring and indicates a low risk. You should continue to have regular smear tests to monitor any new changes.

If your test is positive:

Your doctor will discuss the results along with the smear results with you. You may need to have very regular smear tests or be referred to a gynaecologist for a further investigation called a colposcopy. Having a positive test does not mean that you have cervical cancer, but allows us to monitor and investigate further as your risk of cancer is higher.

How can I protect myself against HPV in the future?

HPV is transmitted through intimate skin to skin contact. HPV can be present in all genital areas and it is therefore not possible to prevent catching HPV by wearing condoms. Despite this, condoms are always a good idea as they will help to prevent transmission of a wide range of sexually transmitted infections.

If your test for high risk HPV was negative, you will be eligible for vaccination. We offer vaccination with Gardasil® which protects against the high risk types of HPV and some strains which are associated with genital warts. Gardasil is also available to males.

Vaccination is not a substitute for routine cervical screening.

(WHO report – HPV and related cancers - Summary Report Update. September 15, 2010)