Does a Normal Pap Result Mean No HPV?

Written by on May 2, 2020 in Health, Prevention, Stuff with 0 Comments

A pap smear is a screening procedure to determine the presence of pre-cancerous or cancerous cells in the cervix.

A pap smear can generally be a good indication of the presence of a harmful HPV infection that can cause genital warts or lead to cervical cancer. However, this test is not a foolproof indicator and should be taken in conjunction with other measures, to be certain that there is no HPV virus in the body.

Pap smear

A pap smear is a minor test done on women, to determine the presence of pre-cancerous or cancerous cells in the cervix. Cells are gently removed from the cervix wall (this process may feel uncomfortable, but should not hurt), and then tested for any abnormalities. This process is very swift and is usually performed in a doctor’s office. Results can take anywhere between 1 to 3 weeks to return, and these will determine whether your cervix cells are normal, abnormal, or if the test results are unclear. If the pap smear returns a finding of abnormal or unclear cells this does not automatically mean the presence of cancer, but further testing or more frequent pap smears may be required.

A pap smear is able to detect cells that are at risk of becoming cervical cancer, which can be caused by HPV – it does not detect the HPV virus itself. This is an important distinction to make, because patients may have the HPV virus that has not yet developed into cancerous cells, but this may happen later. It is possible to receive a normal pap smear result, but also be infected with HPV. This is because in some cases, it can take years for an HPV infection to manifest into cancer, which the pap smear will only pick up on later. Many strains of the HPV virus also do not manifest into cancer anyway, and would not be picked up by a pap smear.

HPV Test

There is a second test that can be done at the same time (or separately) as a pap smear, known as an HPV test. This checks specifically for the presence of HPV, and if the virus is detected, it can determine what strain it is. Not all types of HPV result in cervical cancer, and others may cause different physical symptoms or no symptoms at all. This test is recommended for women who had an inconclusive or irregular pap smear result, or for women over the age of 30 who are at higher risk of developing cervical cancer caused by HPV. Women under the age of 30 are still at risk of contracting HPV, but studies have shown that their immune systems are better at fighting off the virus, preventing cervical cancer.

In many situations, it is possible to get an HPV test alongside a pap smear, to avoid any extra and unnecessary discomfort. This is referred to as “co-testing”, and the cells that are scraped for a pap smear can also be used in the HPV test.

Get checked regularly

Women should be regularly getting pap smears to ensure that they are safe and healthy, even if they do not have any other symptoms of HPV. For women between the ages of 21 and 29, a pap smear should be undertaken once every three years. For women over the age of 30, testing should be undertaken at least once every 5 years. Women over the age of 65 should discuss with their doctor if they should continue with regular pap tests.

In certain situations, it may be advisable to get pap smears more frequently, such as if the patient has HIV, or is immunocompromised in another way. This is because they are at higher risk of greater negative health outcomes, and it is even more important to receive notification of any potential issues as early as possible. In cases like these, the patient will be advised by their doctor about the best options for them.

Even if there are no physical symptoms of HPV or cancer, it is still highly advisable to get checked regularly. Many strains of HPV have no symptoms at all but are still highly contagious, and the virus can still be passed on.

Staying safe between pap smears

At the minimum, women should be getting a pap smear every three years. If any symptoms occur in between tests, they should ring their doctor and get checked. There are other steps that can be taken to help reduce the risk of HPV as much as possible. These include:

  • Get the HPV injections

In the United States, young people have access to Gardasil 9 – a set of three injections that make the patient immune to many common forms of HPV. Gardasil can prevent many forms of cervical cancer, as well as less common vaginal, vulvar and anal cancer. It is recommended that people receive these vaccines before they are sexually active so that they can get immunized before they are at risk of exposure. For those who are not vaccinated, it is still possible to receive benefit from Gardasil 9, and the FDA has approved its use in patients up to the age of 45.

  • Maintain a healthy diet

There is evidence to suggest that a healthy, balanced diet, can help the body’s immune system to fight off the virus, and minimize the risk of HPV causing cervical cancer. Studies have found that increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables, as well as nutrients such as vitamins, folates and carotenoids. This helps to reduce the risk of cells becoming cancerous, and it also improves the immune system’s response to the unwanted HPV virus. Taking supplements alongside a balanced diet is also a great way to ensure that all of the appropriate nutrients are being ingested. Certain supplements, such as Papillex, are designed specifically to help the immune system respond to HPV.

  • Engage in protected sex

As the HPV virus is predominantly a sexually transmitted disease, it is important to take appropriate precautions when engaging in sexual activity, especially with new/multiple partners. This includes always using condoms/dental dams for any skin-to-skin contact. Because some forms of HPV are asymptomatic, many people may not know that they carry the virus, but they will still be contagious. Therefore, all sexual activity with new partners should be treated safely, not just when symptoms of HPV are visible or known.

Disclaimer: Content from the website and blog is not intended to be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.  The information provided on this website is intended for general consumer understanding and is NOT intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice.  As health and nutrition research continuously evolves, we do not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, or timeliness of any information presented on this website.

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