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Testing for HPV

Is there a test for HPV?

Yes. HPV tests are done as part of the NHS Cervical Screening Programme for women and people with a cervix that are between 25–64 years old. They are:

  • HPV primary screening
  • test of cure.

HPV primary screening happens at the start of the programme. Test of cure is done if someone has had treatment for cell changes.

Read more about cervical screening >

Read more about cell changes >

 

HPV primary screening

In all four UK countries, HPV primary screening is used at cervical screening (previously called a ‘smear test’). This means that cells from your cervix are tested for high-risk HPV first. If high-risk HPV is found, the same cells are looked at under a microscope to see if they have changed.

In the past, HPV testing was done as a ‘triage’ in cervical screening. This meant your cervical cells were looked at with a microscope first. If your cells showed changes, they were then tested for high-risk HPV.

HPV primary screening is a more effective test than HPV triage. It helps us find who is at higher risk of developing cell changes or cervical cancer earlier.

Read more about HPV primary screening >

  

Test of cure

In the UK, an HPV test is also used to show that treatment for cervical cell changes has been successful. This is called 'test of cure'. It's usually done 6 months after treatment.

If test of cure shows you don't have high-risk HPV, you'll be invited back for cervical screening every 3 years.

If high-risk HPV is found, you'll be invited to colposcopy again.

Read more about follow-up after treatment for cell changes >

Read more about colposcopy >

 

More information and support

We have more detailed information about some of the topics on this page, including:

 

We know that HPV can be confusing — if you feel this way, you're not alone and we're here for you:

  • We answer some common questions about HPV on our HPV FAQs page
  • For emotional support, call our free Helpline on 0808 802 8000 — our opening hours are here
  • Join our online Forum to talk with other people

We can't give you medical advice or answers about any results. In this case, it's best to speak with your GP or nurse.

 

We would like to thank all the experts who checked the accuracy of this information, and the volunteers who shared their personal experience to help us develop it.

References

  • Royal College of Nursing. 2020. Human Papillomavirus (HPV), Cervical Screening and Cervical Cancer.
  • Northern Ireland Department of Health. 2022. A Cancer Strategy for Northern Ireland 2022–2032.
  • Rebolj M, et al. 2019. Primary cervical screening with high risk human papillomavirus testing: observational study. BMJ. 364:l240.
  • Public Health England. 2021. Colposcopic diagnosis, treatment and follow up.
  • Public Health Wales. 2022. Cervical Screening Wales Sample Taker Reference Guide.
  • NHS National Services Scotland. 2022. Scottish Cervical Screening Programme.

 

We write our information based on literature searches and expert review. For more information about the references we used, please contact [email protected]

Cervical screening >

Find out what cervical screening is for, who is invited and what to expect at the appointment.

Date last updated: 
17 Apr 2024
Date due for review: 
11 May 2026
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