HPV in Women
High-Risk Versus Low-Risk HPVHuman papillomaviruses are now recognized as one of the major causes of cervical cancer. But there are over 100 different types of HPV, so scientists have separated the types into those that are more likely to develop into cancer and those that are less likely. The so-called "high-risk" HPV types are more likely to lead to the development of cancer, while "low-risk" viruses rarely develop into cancer.
High-risk types of HPV can cause cell changes that may lead to cervical cancer over time if the cell changes are left untreated. Having high-risk HPV is not the same thing as having cervical cancer. Usually, these high-risk HPV types cause no health problems at all and go away on their own.
Persistent high-risk HPV (infection that does not go away) is the most important risk factor for cervical cancer. However, with regular Pap tests, cervical cell changes can be found and treated to prevent cervical cancer from ever developing.
Low-risk types of HPV in women can cause genital warts, but do not cause cervical cancer. Warts can form weeks, months, or even years after sexual contact with a person who has genital HPV.
Testing for HPV in Women
Most cases of HPV are suspected following an abnormal Pap test. If a woman is age 30 or older, the healthcare provider may also do an HPV test along with the woman's Pap test. This is a DNA test that detects most of the high-risk types of HPV and helps with screening for cervical cancer.
If a woman is younger than 30 years old and has had a borderline Pap test result, her healthcare provider may give her an HPV test as well. This test will tell if HPV caused the abnormal cells on the woman's cervix.