What is a HPV test?

The human papillomavirus (HPV) test is a swab test used to check for the virus inside the vagina. This test will specifically check for high risk types of HPV, which are the leading cause of a number of cancers, including cervical cancer. They are also responsible for around 5% of all cancers worldwide.

What’s the difference between a HPV test and a smear test?

The HPV test is a swab test which you can do by yourself at home. You can use the swab to collect samples from inside your vagina, to check for the virus that can cause cancer, but you are not looking for cancer itself.

A smear test is usually done by taking samples from inside the cervix (entrance of the womb). This is done by a doctor or medical professional. The smear test checks for any abnormal cells around the cervix area that could develop into cervical cancer, rather than checking for the HPV virus. 

The HPV test does not replace the need for regular smear tests.

Why should I get tested for HPV?

You may want to get tested for HPV if:

  • you want to check if you have any of the high risk forms of HPV that could cause cervical cancer
  • you or your partner received abnormal results from cervical screening tests
  • a close family member has been diagnosed with cervical cancer and you are worried you may also be at risk
  • you regularly have unprotected sex
  • you have had unprotected sex with someone who has developed genital warts caused by HPV


Most women become infected with at least one strain of HPV at some point in their lives. In most cases, the infection clears within a few months without causing any symptoms or harm.

Simply testing positive for a high risk HPV type does not mean that you will develop cervical cancer. 

However, high risk strains can cause cervical cancer to develop. Getting tested helps you to know if you have been infected by these high risk strains, so you can get the necessary treatment before it causes cancer.

Testing positive may simply mean you need to have slightly more regular smear tests, but you should always discuss these results with your doctor.

What strains of HPV does this test check for?

This test checks for strains 16 and 18 separately. It also checks for a panel of other strains, but you won't get individual results for these. Instead, you will receive a single result that will let you know if you have tested positive or negative for any of the following strains of HPV: 26, 31, 33, 35, 39, 45, 51, 52, 53, 56, 58, 59, 66, 68, 69, 73 and 82.

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