How Often to Have the HPV Test

Q

How often do you need to get an HPV test?

A

Your first HPV test
If you are 30 or older and have not had an HPV test, tell your doctor or nurse that you want to be tested for HPV test along with your next Pap. If you are not sure whether you have already had the HPV test, ask! If you are between the ages of 20 and 30, HPV testing should only be used when your Pap result is inconclusive (also called an "ASC-US" Pap). That’s because the infection is very common in younger women, but almost always temporary and harmless. (Note that the most recent guidelines do not recommend HPV testing at all for girls under 20.)

Repeat HPV tests
If you are over 30, how often you need to repeat the HPV test depends on your past results. For example, if both your Pap and HPV test results are normal, re-testing is needed just once every three years. Visit the section in this Web site on "What the Test Results Mean to You" for more information.



Q

When do you no longer need the HPV test?

A

You can stop being tested for HPV when you no longer need a Pap. Most experts agree that women no longer need to be screened for cervical cancer (using the HPV test and the Pap) when they are older than 70 or have had a total hysterectomy, including removal of the cervix. However, there are some exceptions to those general guidelines, as illustrated in the chart below. Discuss what is best for you with your doctor or nurse.

Women who are or have had:When you may stop screeningUnless...
Age 70 or older
Source:
American Cancer Society
If you have not had an abnormal Pap result in the last 10 years, and your last three Paps were normal, you no longer need to be screened for cervical cancer. You:
  • have a history of cervical cancer
  • were exposed to a chemical called DES (once used to prevent miscarriages) while you were in your mother's womb
  • have a weak immune system from AIDS (HIV) or other health conditions
Total hysterectomy (including removal of the cervix)

Source:
American Cancer Society and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
You do not need to be screened if you:
  • had the hysterectomy for a reason unrelated to dysplasia (CIN) or cervical cancer*

* Note: If you have a hysterectomy due to a diagnosis of cervical cancer, most experts say it is important to continue to get the Pap and HPV tests. That is because HPV also can infect the vagina and vulva, causing cancer in those areas. (There is some evidence that women who have had cervical cancer are at higher risk of these types of cancer.) This is what physicians are looking for when they continue to do a "Pap" smear following a hysterectomy. (It's not really a Pap test in its traditional sense – in which a sample of cervical cells is examined – but rather a swab of the vaginal wall.)