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I am 38 years old and just had a Pap test. My Pap test was normal but my HPV test was positive. Is that common? How can I have a normal Pap and but still have HPV? My doc wants me to come in and have a repeat Pap test in six months, but what is this repeat Pap for? I am totally freaking out about having HPV. I was never tested for HPV prior to this; is that because they don’t usually test for HPV until after you're 30?
— Upset About HPV
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The first thing you should know is that human papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common virus that causes a wide range of disease from simple warts to abnormal Pap smears and cervical cancer. HPV often creates no symptoms, and the virus doesn't always lead to a disease like cervical cancer; in fact, that is relatively rare. You can test positive for HPV but later test negative if your body’s immune system effectively fights the virus off over time. It is estimated that up to 80 percent of women contract HPV at some point in their lives, however a very small percentage of these women develop cervical cancer. This is probably why you have a positive HPV test but a normal Pap smear. The reason your doctor wants to repeat the Pap smear in six months is because having HPV increases your risk for developing cervical cancer. There is a good chance that your HPV infection will go away and cause no problems; however, it is important to get frequent Pap smears to check for cervical cancer.
Testing for HPV is recommended for women over 30 as a supplement to Pap smears. The reason for this is medical studies have shown that a positive test in this age group places you at a higher risk for cervical cancer. Therefore, if you have a positive HPV test and a negative Pap smear, your doctor will often recommend getting more frequent Pap smears. There is certainly no need to freak out about having HPV. It is very, very common, and frequent follow-ups with your doctor should prevent potential problems. For more information, visit the National Cancer Institute HPV Q and A, the Mayo Clinic HPV information page, and check out a previous DrSugar post regarding the HPV vaccine.
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