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HPV Testing: An Unnecessary Worry?

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If your HPV test comes back abnormal, and the only plan of treatment is to test for it again in a year (or run a series of tests and biopsies that will most likely come back normal) is testing really worth it?

woman at a gyn

HPV (human papillomavirus) is a common virus that infects the skin and mucous membranes.There are about 100 types of HPV. Approximately 30 of those are spread through genital contact (typically sexual intercourse), and many doctors are urging their patients over the age of 30 to get tested for it.

In the past, the general standard of care was for doctors to only use the HPV test as a follow up to a pap that came back abnormal. But recently, more and more doctors have started using the test in conjunction with a pap; they believe that the HPV test can more accurately identify a woman who is at risk for developing cervical cancer than the pap alone. However, in a case where a patient is tested the first time and the pap is normal but the HPV test is abnormal, there is actually nothing to do or treat. And therein lies the problem ...

While it is estimated that 80% of all women, (and 50% of men and women combined ) will get one or more types of "genital" HPV at some point in their lives, generally the body's immune system is able to fight off or suppress the HPV virus before it causes problems. Many doctors believe that since the pap will pick up the most high risk type of HPV (which actually leads to cancer) that the HPV test is unnecessary. They feel that in addition to costing a lot of money, the test will only cause a patient to worry.

Bottom line: Unless you avoid sex (and that includes oral!), you run the risk of developing HPV. So if your annual pap smear is the one that doctors heed red flag warnings from, is it worth it to get tested for HPV??

Tell us your thoughts! And check out what our expert Dr. Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz had to say at the Women's Conference about the HPV Vaccine!

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3 comments so far | Post a comment now
Sarah October 30, 2008, 7:47 AM

YES, the HPV Test is well worth it since it takes 3 years of doing paps to equal the sensitivity of just one HPV test! Paps are very subjective. There are many cases where women have had years of normal paps and trend HPV positive and develop cancer. Check out what the CDC, American Cancer Society, ACOG, ASCCP, NPWH, and so on say about HPV Testing. If HPV isn’t such a big deal in your eyes, then why do you even bother getting a pap?\

Ali October 30, 2008, 11:08 AM

I don’t understand how testing for something that MAY turn into something down the line is a productive way to handle HPV. If it comes back positive, then so what? Do you just sit around and wait for something to materialize. I had/have HPV, had a bad pap that resulted in a cold knife procedure on my cervix. Having known in advance that this was going to happen would have seved no purpose. I did have my daughter vaccinated against HPV but for people like myself (amd that’s most of us) knowing that we have the virus in advance of anything materializing would only serve to create unneeded anxiety. Just my opinion, I’m not a doctor but have had up close and personal experience with this.

KayBallard September 19, 2010, 3:54 AM

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