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Human Papillomavirus Testing

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Human Papillomavirus Testing

(HPV Testing; Testing, HPV; Testing, Human Papillomavirus)


Human papillomavirus (HPV) testing detects whether a woman's cervix is infected with the virus. The cervix is a canal that connects the lower part of the womb to the upper part of the vagina.

The HPV test is approved to detect some types of HPV on a woman's cervix. Currently, there is no test for men.


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Reasons for the Test

HPV is spread by sexual contact. Certain types of HPV raise the risk of cervical cancer. HPV is also the cause of genital warts.

The HPV test is done on women who are 21 years of age or older and have had an abnormal Pap smear result. Women who are 30 years of age or older may have the HPV test along with a Pap smear to screen for cervical cancer.

Possible Complications

There are no major problems that could happen from this test.

What to Expect

Prior to Test

To improve test accuracy:

  • Do not schedule the test during your menstrual period.
  • Do not use creams, medicines, or douches before the test.
  • Do not use contraceptive for 72 hours before the test. This includes foams, creams, or jellies.
  • Do not have sex for 24 hours before the test.

Description of Test

You will lie on your back with your feet placed in footrests. You will be asked to let your legs fall open to the sides. A tool called a speculum will be inserted into the vagina to open it so that the cervix can be viewed. A swab will be inserted into the vagina to wipe the surface of the cervix. This test is most often done at the same time as a Pap smear. The swab and speculum will be removed.

How Long Will It Take?

5 minutes

Will It Hurt?

You may feel some pressure or a small cramp when the cervix is wiped.


Test results will be sent to your doctor. Your doctor will talk to you about the results and whether more tests or treatments may be needed.

Problems to Look Out For

Call the doctor if you have:

  • Signs of infection, such as fever and chills
  • Foul vaginal odor, pain, or unusual discharge
  • Severe belly pain or swelling

If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.





  • Genital HPV infection—fact sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
  • HPV and men—fact sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
  • Human papillomavirus testing. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at:
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.