If you're infected with a high risk type of HPV (human papilloma virus), you'll usually have no symptoms, whether you're a woman or a man. There are no blood tests to detect HPV infection.
In men, at present there's no reliable test to detect HPV infection and it's often very difficult to diagnose.
What is HPV?
Human papilloma virus (HPV) is the name for a family of viruses that affect your skin and the moist membranes lining your body. For example, in your cervix, anus, mouth and throat. This family of viruses includes more than 100 types.
Around 40 types of HPV can affect the genital area. These can be divided into high risk and low risk types. Around 99% of cervical cancer is caused by high risk types of HPV.
What can cervical screening test results show?
If your cervical screening test shows changes in the cells of your cervix, the results may be reported as dyskaryosis - this means cell changes or abnormal cells. For example, the test result letter may refer to:
- borderline cell changes - borderline changes,
- mild cell changes - mild dyskaryosis,
- moderate cell changes - moderate dyskaryosis, or
- severe cell changes - severe dyskaryosis.
If your cervical screening test result shows borderline changes or mild dyskaryosis, you'll be offered a test for high risk HPV infection. Only 15-20% of women with borderline or mild cell changes will have a significant abnormality that needs treatment. The HPV test therefore helps to identify which women may need treatment.
HPV test results
If your HPV test result shows you have high risk HPV infection, this does not necessarily mean that you'll go on to develop cancer. It simply means that you're at greater risk of doing so than if the test result was negative.
If you have borderline or mild dyskaryosis test results and no evidence of high risk HPV infection, you're very unlikely to develop cervical cancer. You will continue to be invited for routine cervical screening every three years.
If your test result shows you have high risk HPV infection, you'll be invited to go for a colposcopy test. This is a way of looking closely at your cervix to see if you need any treatment.
What can colposcopy tests show?
If the colposcopy test shows precancerous cells (cervical intraepithelial neoplasia - CIN), the test result may refer to CIN. For example:
- CIN 1 - mild cell changes,
- CIN 2 - moderate cell changes, or
- CIN 3 - severe cell changes.
The three grades of CIN relate to the thickness of the skin covering your cervix that is affected.
If you need treatment, you'll usually be seen in an outpatient clinic, which means that you won't need to stay overnight.
Six months after your treatment, you'll have another HPV test and another cervical screening test. If these test results are normal and show no high risk HPV infection, you'll continue to be invited for routine cervical screening every three years. If these test results are abnormal, you'll be invited for yearly screening for 10 years.