Whether you have a positive HPV test or you’re concerned that you’ve contracted the sexually transmitted infection (STI), you may be wondering what happens next. Can the infection be cured or treated? Or will it be something you have to deal with for the rest of your life?
In this article, we aim to answer some of your most pressing questions about HPV and shed light on the next steps to take if you have been diagnosed with the disease.
What is HPV?
HPV stands for human papillomavirus, and is one of the most common STIs. There are more than 200 types of HPV. The infection is usually harmless and tends to go away on its own. However, some types can lead to cancer or genital warts.
Therefore, it is not the infection itself that causes concern for healthcare professionals. It is the infection’s potential to lead to other more serious conditions like cancer.
HPV can be spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus. People infected with the virus can also spread it through close skin-to-skin contact, for example, during sex. The virus can be contagious even if the person has no signs or symptoms.
So, if you are sexually active, you can get HPV, even if you have only one sexual partner. Moreover, symptoms may take years to show up after having sex with an infected person. This often makes it difficult for many patients to determine when they first got the infection.
What Does “HPV Positive” Mean on a Cervical Smear?
An HPV positive result on your cervical smear test essentially means that you have a type of high-risk HPV that may be linked to cervical cancer. This means that you may have a higher risk of getting cervical cancer in the future. It does not mean that you have cervical cancer.
In the UK, when someone’s cervical smear is positive for a high-risk HPV type, the cells collected from the cervix are studied under microscopy to check if there are any abnormal cells, precancerous or cancerous changes.
What Does “No Abnormal Cells” Mean?
If your smear shows you are positive for a high-risk HPV, however, have no abnormal cells, this means there is no evidence of precancerous or cancerous cell changes. In this case, you are normally invited to return for a repeat smear test in 6–12 months. In most cases, the HPV will have cleared, and you will be returned to the regular smear testing schedule. If you are still HPV positive at the repeat smear, your cells will be checked again under the microscope to check that there are no worrying changes.
What Does “Abnormal Cells” Mean?
If you have a positive HPV test, and it finds that your cervix does have abnormal cells, it means that cell changes were found on your cervix. Abnormal cells include cells that have the potential to turn into cancer, or are precancerous or even cancerous. In this case, you will normally be invited to attend a colposcopy to determine what kind of abnormality is present. Abnormal cells does not automatically mean you have cancer, however it is important to attend follow-up appointments.
Abnormal cells are usually due to cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN). This is a condition where there are changes to the cells of the cervix that may become cancerous in the future. CIN is divided into CIN1, CIN2 and CIN3. CIN1 carries a very low risk of turning into cancer, so normally, treatment is not required, however, you may be asked to attend a repeat smear test in 6–12 months. CIN2 and CIN3 have a greater risk of turning cancerous, so you will likely be advised to have these cells removed during a colposcopy.
What is a Colposcopy?
Where abnormal cells have been found on your smear test, or your history dictates you may be at higher risk of cervical cancer, your healthcare provider may recommend a colposcopy.
Colposcopy is a procedure that’s used to closely examine the cervix and see it more clearly. Your doctor will insert a speculum into your vagina similar to your smear test, and will look directly at your cervix through a colposcope, which acts like a microscope. This allows the clinician to look at your cervix in greater detail.
During the procedure, the doctor may take a sample of cells from your cervix for testing in the lab. In some cases, areas of abnormal cells are completely removed there and then. Colposcopy usually only takes about five to ten minutes.
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When Will I Have Another Smear Test?
You will receive written information on when to attend for your next smear test. If you tested positive for HPV, but your cervical cells were normal, you will usually be invited for another smear test within one year.
Where you have attended colposcopy or had treatment for abnormal cells, you may be invited for a repeat smear or colposcopy in 6–12 months. Otherwise, you will be recalled routinely at 3–5 years.
Does This Mean I Have Cancer?
A positive HPV test doesn’t mean you have cervical cancer. In fact, only a small number of women who have one of the HPV strains that cause cervical cancer will ever actually develop the disease. However, a positive HPV test is a warning sign that cervical cancer could develop in the future. This is why regular testing is so important.
How Do I Get Rid of HPV?
There is no cure for HPV. But in most cases, the infection will clear up on its own, within two years. While there isn’t a cure for HPV, there is a vaccine available that can prevent most cases of cervical cancer.
However, you should get the vaccine before you’re exposed to the virus. In most cases, the vaccine is given to girls and boys between 12 and 13. However, the youngest age an individual can get the vaccine is 9.
Will HPV Go Away on its Own?
According to the CDC, most cases (9 out of 10) of HPV go away on their own within two years.
Does This Mean My Partner Has Cheated on Me?
While it’s possible, having HPV does not necessarily mean your partner is having sex outside your relationship. Due to HPV’s long latency period, it can be difficult to determine where you or your partner got it from.
A Step Towards Better Sexual Health
Getting a HPV diagnosis can be a scary experience. While the infection can lead to more serious problems like cancer, this is rare. However, it’s always important to protect your sexual health by practicing safe sex, getting regular STI testing, and attending on time for your cervical smear tests.
Want the convenience of testing for different STIs in your own home? Check out our STI test kits. You can also click the Resources tab on our website to learn how the testing process works and get information about common STIs. Yoxly is here to help you take control of your sexual health today.