What is a home HPV test?
- What is HPV?
- Home HPV test schemes
- What does a HPV test look for?
- What is in a home HPV test?
- How to use a home HPV test
- What happens if HPV is found in your sample
- If high risk HPV cells are found
- If no abnormal cells found
- If high risk HPV cells and abnormal cells are found
- How to get tested for HPV
- Should you get the HPV vaccine?
A cervical screening (or smear test) is something most adult women will have experienced. It’s a short, routine appointment where you visit your GP to have your cervix swabbed. The purpose is to check the health of your cervix by looking for high-risk types of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common infection that can cause cancer in some people.
In recent years there have been trials of home HPV tests, and you can also buy home HPV tests from some online doctors, pharmacies and testing services.
In this article we’ll look at what home HPV tests are for and how to use them.
What is HPV?
Most people’s bodies will fight the virus off on their own. But for some people, certain high-risk strains of HPV can lead to genital warts, or cause cell changes which can lead to certain types of cancer including cervical, anal, penile and head and neck cancers.
Home HPV test schemes
Recently, schemes have been announced in the UK that will allow women to do their own at-home HPV tests. In certain areas of London, a trial called YouScreen is being offered. This trial will offer a home test kit to 31,000 women who are 15 months overdue for a cervical screening. Other similar trials are taking place elsewhere in the country.
This kind of home test kit has come about for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a response to medical services being less widely available during the pandemic. Second, cervical screenings are often skipped because many women feel scared or embarrassed, or have a disability that stops them from attending.
It’s hoped that these at-home tests will boost the numbers of women getting checked for high-risk HPV.
What does a HPV test look for?
As with a cervical screening you would have at your GP surgery, a home test kit looks for high-risk types of human papillomavirus.
HPV is a term for a family of viruses which are often sexually transmitted and very widespread. Most types of HPV don’t cause any symptoms and aren’t harmful, but a few strains are known to cause cancer in some people. Other strains can cause genital warts, although these types aren’t looked for in a cervical screening.
What is in a home HPV test?
Your home HPV test will come with everything you need to collect your samples and send them back to the lab for testing.
Usually a test kit will include:
- Instructions for use
- Consent form
- Cotton swab or brush
- Test tube
- Packaging to send the kit back to the lab
How to use a home HPV test
It’s really simple. The test kit will come with a cotton swab or a soft brush that you insert carefully into your vagina. Unlike a cervical screening, the swab won’t need to touch the cervix, which means most women should find it pain-free. Doing a home test kit doesn’t require any other equipment like a speculum.
Once you’ve taken your sample you can return the swab to the protective packaging provided, and post it back or drop it at your GP surgery.
Find out more by watching this instructional video from YouScreen.
What happens if HPV is found in your sample
If high risk HPV cells are found
If high-risk HPV cells are found using this testing method, a follow-up appointment will be needed. Your GP will need to do a standard cervical screening where they brush away a few cells from your cervix to find out if any of them are abnormal.
It’s worth bearing in mind that even if your test detects high-risk HPV this doesn’t mean that you’ll get cancer. By having a cervical screening your doctor will be able to tell whether you need more tests.
If no abnormal cells found
If you have high-risk HPV but no abnormal cells, you won’t need any more medical attention for the time-being.
If high risk HPV cells and abnormal cells are found
If you have high-risk HPV and you also have abnormal cells on your cervix, you’ll probably need a colposcopy.
A colposcopy is a hospital appointment where a doctor looks at your cervix using a microscope and a light. During the examination they might take a small amount of tissue from your cervix so they can look at it more closely.
Even if you end up needing a colposcopy, this isn’t necessarily cause for concern. If abnormal cells are found during this examination, there are treatments for getting rid of them.
How to get tested for HPV
If you’re an adult with a cervix in the UK, you’ll be invited to a free cervical screening by your GP, normally once every three to five years between the ages of 25 and 64. You might need to go more often if a past test has shown the presence of high-risk HPV.
As mentioned, you might find that some areas are trailing this home HPV testing system. And some people chose to buy home HPV tests online. But usually, the only way to get tested is through the routine cervical screening programme.
Should you get the HPV vaccine?
The HPV vaccine protects against strains of the virus that cause cancer, as well as genital warts. If you’re under 25 and were offered the vaccine in a UK school put missed it, transgender and under 45, or a man who has sex with men and you're under 45, you can get the vaccine free on the NHS. The vaccine is also free for school children.
If you’re not eligible for a free vaccine on the NHS, you can request one through LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor.