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An HPV diagnosis is typically made based on the results of a Pap smear (or Pap test). Because there are usually no symptoms of the virus, if a Pap test indicates abnormal results, a specific test for the virus is then conducted. A test is also available that can test for the virus's DNA in women; however, no tests exist to make an HPV diagnosis in men.
How Is HPV Diagnosed?
Human papillomavirus is a type of virus that can cause several different diseases, such as:
- Warts (including genital warts)
- Precancerous changes in the cervix, vulva, anus, or penis
- Cancer (see HPV and Cervical Cancer).
When diagnosing an HPV infection, a healthcare provider will begin by asking a number of questions. This will include questions about:
- Current symptoms you are experiencing
- Your sexual history
- Other medical conditions that you may have
- Any medicines you are taking.
Your healthcare provider will also perform a physical exam to look for signs and symptoms of HPV (see HPV Symptoms).
Making a Positive HPV DiagnosisMost women who are diagnosed with HPV have no outward signs or symptoms. Instead, the results of an abnormal Pap test suggest that the virus is present. With a Pap smear, the healthcare provider takes a sample of cells from your cervix using a small brush or swab. These cells are then studied under a microscope for any abnormal changes. A Pap test is the primary cancer-screening tool for cervical cancer or precancerous changes in the cervix, many of which are related to HPV. However, a Pap test is not a specific test for HPV.
A specific test is available to detect human papillomavirus DNA (genetic material) in women. This test is not recommended in every situation. It is typically used in women with mild Pap test abnormalities or in women age 30 or older at the time of Pap testing. It is done at the same time as the Pap smear.
This HPV test can identify 13 of the high-risk types of HPV that are associated with the development of cervical cancer. The results of HPV DNA testing can help healthcare providers decide if further tests or treatments are necessary.
Currently, no tests are available to make a positive HPV diagnosis in men.
(Click HPV Test for more information on this test used to diagnose the virus in women.)