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Is the human papillomavirus (HPV) test necessary?

Although healthcare providers differ in what they offer as routine screenings, many do make the human papillomavirus (HPV) test available to women because it is now recommended by many major professional organizations. For example, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommend as an option that women who are 30 or older may have the HPV test along with a Pap test, rather than the Pap test alone.

The HPV test looks for cancer-causing types of HPV, which cause nearly all cases of cervical cancer. Pap tests look for abnormal cell changes caused by HPV. Studies find that the combination of a Pap test and HPV test is the most effective way to find cervical disease and cancer, better than using a Pap alone. If the HPV test is positive (meaning you have HPV), it doesn't necessarily mean you will get cancer. Almost all women clear the virus with the help of their immune systems. It just means that your healthcare provider will want to monitor you more closely for any cell changes that may happen as a result of the HPV infection.

More and more healthcare professionals are now offering the HPV test along with the Pap to women 30 and older. Women under 30 do not need to be tested for HPV unless their Pap tests are inconclusive or "borderline" for cell changes. This is because most young women will have an active infection at some point, but the infection will clear up on its own without problems.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.