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Home Ask the Experts Ask the Experts Confused about HPV tests
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I'm confused by the news that new HPV tests are available. How are these tests different and I don't understand how a test that detects certain types of the virus is helpful. Isn't my Pap good enough?

Good for you that you are keeping up with the current news in cervical cancer prevention! You are correct that a new HPV test is available, so I will try to explain its use.

There are now 2 FDA approved HPV tests: The Hybrid Capture 2 HPV DNA test and Cervista HPV test. The Hybrid Capture 2 test has been available for almost 10 years. It tests for a panel of 13 high risk viral strains and if the test returns "positive" it means that one or more of those strains have been detected. This test is recommended for two uses--- with women over age 20 when a Pap test returns in a borderline category, called atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance (ASC-US); and in women over the age of 30 when doing both a Pap test and an HPV test.

Cervista HPV was just recently FDA-approved in March 2009. It also has a high risk panel of the same 13 viral strains as the Hybrid Capture 2 test but it adds one more strain that has been found to cause cervical disease. It is also approved for the same two indications as above: for reflex testing for an ASC-US Pap result and for primary screening of women age 30 and older.

What Cervista also offers is the ability to tell if either type 16 or type 18 is present; this is called genotype specific testing. We know that these two strains cause the majority of cervical cancers. If the Cervista high risk panel is positive, then further testing can be done from the same sample to see if either type 16 or 18 is present. Women under the age of 30 are very likely to clear their HPV infection, so genotype specific testing is not particularly helpful in this age group. However, it may be especially important for women over 30 as cervical cancer rates begin to rise.

If types 16 or 18 are present, it does not mean that you have or will get cervical cancer. It simply means that your healthcare provider has another tool to help determine the appropriate follow up for you

--Beth Colvin Huff, MSN, FNP-BC