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Testing for HPV

HPV testing can be done in the following three ways:

  • HPV primary screening – this method was being trialled by the NHS England Cervical Screening Programme in six areas in England. The trial was successful and in July 2016 it was announced that HPV primary screening will be rolled out across the whole of England [1]. In January of 2017 The Welsh Government announced that they would also be moving to primary HPV screening [2]. In this method the sample of cells taken during cervical screening is tested for HPV first. If HPV is found, cervical screening cytology (examination of the cells under a microscope) is then done to confirm if cell changes are present [3] 
  • HPV triage – this method is currently used in some areas of the UK as part of the NHS National Screening Programme (see the table below). For this method cervical screening cytology is done first and if this shows a result of low grade abnormalities, HPV testing will then be carried out. If the test comes back positive for HPV the woman will be referred to colposcopy, if it is negative she will be returned to routine screening every three or five years
  • Test of cure – this method is used across the UK as part of the NHS National Screening Programme. This method of HPV testing is done after a woman has been treated for cervical abnormalities, to check if she has been successfully cured. It is carried out in combination with cervical screening cytology at the first appointment post treatment, which usually happens about six months after treatment.

Not all of these HPV testing methods are currently available UK wide. However, they have been introduced into many parts of the UK – see the table below for HPV testing in your country.

Type of HPV test England Northern Ireland Scotland Wales
HPV primary screening Yes No No Yes
HPV triage Yes Yes No Yes
Test of cure Yes Yes Yes Yes


An HPV test is carried out using the same sample of cells taken during a cervical screening test. The cervical screening will happen in exactly the same way and then, in the laboratory, the cells will be analysed for current HPV infection. If the cells have been infected with HPV the test will give a positive result for high-risk HPV types. 

The HPV test is important because it identifies women with a high-risk type of HPV. If a woman contracts high-risk HPV and this becomes a persistent infection then she has a higher possibility of developing abnormal cells and, thus, should be monitored more closely to reduce her risk of developing cervical abnormalities and cervical cancer.

The results of the 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 to those at very low risk. The test can also reduce the number of unnecessary screening appointments and colposcopies among women with low grade cervical screening cytology results or who have been treated for abnormal cells.

You can read more about HPV testing by downloading our HPV testing information booklet.

Read more on HPV and the link to cervical cancer.



  1. BBC, 2016. HPV primary screening in the cervical screening programme. www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-36701516. Accessed: 12.01.2017.
  2. Welsh Government, 2017. Improved cervical & bowel cancer screening tests to be introduced. http://gov.wales/newsroom/health-and-social-services/2017/170111screening/?lang=en. Accessed: 12.01.2017.
  3. Cancer Research UK, 2016. HPV and cancer. www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/infections-hpv-and-cancer/hpv-and-cancer. Accessed: 04.09.2015
Date last updated: 
20 Mar 2017
Date due for review: 
04 Sep 2018

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