HPV Testing

Why Test for HPV?

Cervical cancer is the second-most-common cancer among women worldwide today and affects globally nearly 500,000 women per year of which 275,000 still die. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 11,150 cases of invasive cervical cancer were diagnosed in the United States in 2007, while nearly 3,670 women died from the disease. In developing countries, cervical cancer kills approximately 200,000 women each year.

When cervical disease is detected early, cancer can be prevented or treated most effectively. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is now recognized as the primary cause of cervical disease and cancer. More than 150 types of HPV have been identified, of which about 30 target the genital area. Genital HPV types are categorized as "low-risk," which can cause genital warts, or "high-risk," which are associated with CIN 2/3 and cancer. Visit our section on genital HPV types for more information.

HPV can be accurately detected using DNA-based testing. HPV testing plays a vital role in cervical cancer screening for women over the age of 30, when they are most at risk of cervical cancer. While cytology is often able to find cellular changes after disease develops, a high-risk HPV test detects the genetic "footprint" of the virus that causes CIN 2/3 and cancer. Fortunately, many women who have the virus clear it on their own; only women with persistent high-risk HPV infection are at risk for developing CIN 2/3 or cancer. Early detection of high-grade cervical disease and appropriate follow-up of HPV-positive women can prevent the vast majority of invasive cervical cancers.