Currently it is not yet recommended to systematically screen for the presence of the HPV virus, though it is possible that in the future, screening for cervical cancer will first include checking for any HPV infection, which is not a bad thing in itself, but only efficient if any HPV infection persists over time.
Several DNA tests have been developed in order to determine if one is a carrier of HPV. Growing HPV in a culture is not possible because it is not a bacterial infection.
Several tests are available commercially. Most often one finds HPV as part of a “cocktail” of high risk tests (these use molecular biology techniques, for example Hybrid Capture2 ® and HPV PCR test.
- A positive result indicates the person is a carrier of HPV. This does not necessarily indicate that the carrier also has a precancerous lesion (this virus can take years to progress from infection towards a precancerous lesion).
- A positive test result does not in itself carry any negative connotation. It is only if the virus is persistent that there is a risk to manage.
- Negative HPV results suggest the probability of developing lesions in the following 3 - 5 years is very rare.
Some international studies even suggest replacing the tradition smear test (cytology tests being less sensitive) with one of these HPV test which would enable knowing:
- if in the case of a positive HPV result, that one is at risk of developing a cervical lesion, thus leaving the traditional smear test to be studied by a cytologist at this stage.
- in the case of a negative result, then the smear test would not be necessary since the risk of a precancerous lesion is very small.
More recently, even more precise tests have been developed (Genotyping). They identify the precise genotype of the virus because some genotypes are more dangerous than others, for example HPV 16.
These HPV tests may represent the future for better monitoring of patients, particularly of those who have been vaccinated against certain strains of HPV.