HPV testing is used throughout the UK, in one form or another.
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 of HPV 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) enables faster investigations of those at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer and greater reassurance to those with 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.
In England, Northern Ireland and Wales, it is used as a secondary test in women who show low grade abnormalities on the results of their cervical screening test. This is sometimes called HPV triage. In all UK countries, HPV testing is also used to help show if treatment for 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.
Recently, both the English and Welsh governments have announced that they will be rolling out a new method of HPV testing, called HPV primary screening. In HPV primary screening the sample of cells collected during cervical screening will be being tested for high-risk HPV first, rather than looked at under a microscope to look for abnormalities directly. If the sample is positive for high-risk HPV, the cells will then be looked at under a microscope and the woman may go for further investigation at colposcopy. You can find out more about this change and where in the UK it is happening on our HPV primary screening pages.
For all of these methods, the 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 are analysed for any current HPV infection.
For more details on HPV testing, please download our HPV testing information booklet.