There is no treatment for an HPV infection as usually the body’s own immune system will clear the infection. However a persistent HPV infection with a high risk type may lead to cervical abnormalities and increase the risk of developing cervical cancer. The results of an HPV test combined with cervical screening cytology (examination of the cells under a microscope) enable faster investigation of those at higher risk of developing cervical cancer, and reassurance of those at very low risk. The test can also reduce the number of unnecessary screening appointments and colposcopies among women with borderline or mild cervical screening cytology results or who have been treated for abnormal cells.
In the UK, HPV testing is only offered in special circumstances. In England and Northern Ireland it is used as a secondary test in women who show borderline or mild cervical abnormalities on the results of their cervical screening test. This is sometimes called HPV Triage. In England, Northern Ireland and Scotland (soon to be in Wales) it is also used to help show if treatment of cervical abnormalities has been successful, allowing women to return to regular screening intervals if no high risk HPV infection is detected. This is sometimes called the HPV Test of Cure.
The HPV test is carried out using the same sample of cells taken during a cervical screening test. In the laboratory the cells are analysed for current HPV infection.
For more details on HPV testing, please download our HPV testing factsheet