What happens if my Pap test comes back normal, but I test positive for HPV?
Published on September 10, 2013 by Virginia Women's Center
Based on current guidelines, if you are 30 years or older, our health care providers now check for two things during your Pap test. First, we check the cells on your cervix to see if there are any abnormalities. Secondly, we check to see if human papillomavirus (HPV) is present or not. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted virus. It is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives. There are over 100 types of HPV and it is possible for a person to get more than one type of HPV during his/her lifetime.
There are times when you could receive normal Pap test results, meaning that no abnormal cells were found, but you could still test positive for HPV. This blog post is intended for patients who received these results and want to know more about what this means and what follow-up care is recommended.
How is HPV spread?
HPV is spread through skin-to-skin contact. HPV is primarily spread through sexual intercourse, but it can be spread through any sexual contact. While condoms do not fully protect against HPV, it is still important for individuals to use condoms with any new partners and with every sexual encounter.
Please note: It is very rare that HPV can be passed to a child during pregnancy or delivery.
What are the symptoms of HPV?
Many people with HPV do not develop symptoms or health problems from the virus. Therefore, individuals do not always know they are infected with HPV. In many cases, the body’s immune system clears HPV naturally within two years of infection. Certain strains of HPV can cause genital warts, but these strains were not the ones that were tested for during your Pap test.
Health problems from HPV are rare in males. There is also no current HPV screening test for men, so they can carry it and never know.
When did I get HPV?
There is no way to know who gave this to you or how long you have had the virus. For example, it could have been given to you during your very first sexual encounter. A person can still have HPV, even if years have passed since he or she has had sexual contact with an infected person. Most infected persons do not realize they are infected, or that they are passing HPV on to a sex partner. Even though you recently tested positive for HPV, it does not mean that your partner has been cheating or unfaithful.
What can I do now?
More than 90 percent of people will get rid of the virus on their own in about two years. Typically, your immune system will fight it off just like it would the common cold. There are some things you can do on your own to help boost your immune system to fight off the virus:
- Take a daily multi-vitamin
- Get good sleep at night
- Eat a nutritious diet
- Limit your use of alcohol
- Exercise regularly
- If you are a smoker, try to quit
Please note: If you or your partner are between the ages of nine and 26, we recommend you (or your partner, if applicable) receive the Gardasil vaccine, which can help protect you from new exposures to other strains of HPV.
What kind of follow-up care do I need?
A positive HPV result does not mean that you have cervical cancer or that you will ever develop it. In some cases, HPV can persist and start to cause abnormal cell changes. In very rare cases, it can lead to cancer. However, our health care providers will follow your Pap tests closely to make sure abnormal cells do not start to form.
It is likely that your health care provider will ask you to return in one year for another Pap test and HPV test. If HPV still persists at that time, your health care provider would recommend a simple procedure called a colposcopy, where he/she would use a magnifying device to look at your cervix and possibly take a tissue sample.