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HPV primary screening is a way of testing the sample of cells taken at your cervical screening (smear test) appointment. It tests for a virus called high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) that can cause cervical cell changes to develop into cervical cancer.
England and Wales use HPV primary screening. Scotland and Northern Ireland will use HPV primary screening in the future.
We also have information about:
HPV primary screening is a way of testing the sample of cells taken during cervical screening. A lab tests your sample for a virus called high-risk HPV. High-risk HPV can cause cervical cell changes to develop into cervical cancer over time. If you have high-risk HPV, that same sample will be tested for cell changes.
Not all cell changes will develop into cervical cancer, but it is important that they are monitored and treated if needed.
If high-risk HPV is not found, your sample will not be looked at for cell changes. It is very unlikely cell changes or cervical cancer will develop without high-risk HPV. You will be invited for cervical screening in 3 or 5 years.
If high-risk HPV is found, your sample will be looked at for cell changes. If there are no cell changes, you will be invited back for cervical screening in 1 year. This is to make sure the HPV has cleared.
If high-risk HPV and cell changes are found, you will be invited for further tests at colposcopy.
HPV primary screening has started in England and Wales. In the rest of the UK, it is starting:
The National Screening Committee, which oversees all screening programmes in the UK, recommended the move to HPV primary screening because evidence shows it is a better test:
All tests have some risks:
Our body is made up of cells – you can think of them as the building blocks of our body. Cytology is the study of individual cells in the body. In cervical screening, this means that the cells taken during your appointment are looked at under a microscope for changes. Cytology is used in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
If cell changes are found, what happens next depends on where you live:
If any kind of cell changes are found, the sample is not tested again and you are invited to colposcopy.
Scotland will use HPV primary screening from the end of March 2020.
If borderline or low-grade cell changes are found, the same sample is tested for high-risk HPV. This is because it is unlikely for cell changes to develop into cervical cancer without high-risk HPV.
If high-grade cell changes are found, you are invited to colposcopy at your local hospital, where a specialist takes a closer look at your cervix.
Northern Ireland will use HPV primary screening in the future.
It is possible to have cervical cell changes without having high-risk HPV. However, it is unlikely that these cell changes would develop into cervical cancer. The National Screening Committee recommended the move to HPV primary screening because it is more accurate at showing who is at higher risk of cell changes that may develop into cervical cancer.
The short answer is no. HPV primary screening means your sample will only be tested for cell changes if you have high-risk HPV.
The only way to have your sample checked for cell changes is to book cervical screening privately, for a cost. If you are worried about cervical screening not checking for cell changes, it is best to speak with your GP or practice nurse. They will be able to answer any questions and offer reassurance.
If you live in England or Wales, your next cervical screening test should useHPV primary screening. If you are unsure, it is best to speak with your GP surgery for a definite answer.
Your GP or practice nurse should be able to answer any questions you have about HPV primary screening and your results.
We know that HPV and HPV primary screening can be confusing, so if you have questions we are also here to support you:
Thank you to all the experts who checked the accuracy of this information, and the volunteers who shared their personal experience to help us develop it.
We write our information based on literature searches and expert review. For more information about the references we used, please contact [email protected]