What does my test result mean?
Your test results show high grade cell changes on your Pap test OR HPV infection with types 16 &/or 18 OR persistent infection with one of the other high-risk HPV types. It is important that you have further follow-up because you may be at increased risk of developing cervical cancer.
We recommend referral to a specialist for colposcopy. It is very important that you follow the instructions of your health practitioner.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and Cervical Screening
We now know that infection over many years with certain types of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancer.
There are around 40 types of HPV which can infect the genital area (including the cervix). Genital HPV is spread by genital skin-to-skin contact during sex. Most people will have genital HPV at some time in their lives but never know as there are usually no symptoms and, most often, the virus goes away on its own without causing any problems.
An abnormal Pap test is often due to infection with HPV. The Pap test can find changes in the cells of the cervix before serious problems develop. These cell abnormalities can also be predicted using the HPV test, which detects the virus itself.
Low-risk and High-risk HPV
Genital HPV types are called either low-risk or high-risk. Low-risk types can cause minor changes to the cells of the cervix, or, sometimes, genital warts. Low-risk HPV types are usually cleared naturally within one to two years.
High-risk types (especially types 16 & 18) can cause more serious cell changes. They can also take longer to clear from the body. In a small number of women, infection with one of these high-risk types does not seem to clear. This is called persistent infection and can lead to significant cell changes or even, usually over a long time, cancer.
Women having an HPV test in the Compass Trial will be tested for the high-risk HPV types, including types 16 & 18.
Abnormal Pap Test Results
The Pap test can find changes in the cells of the cervix before serious problems develop. It is very unusual for an abnormal Pap test result to be due to cancer. Abnormal Pap test results are quite common. There are two main types of abnormal Pap tests: low-grade abnormalities and high-grade abnormalities.
High Grade Abnormalities
High-grade abnormalities may indicate more serious changes in the cells of the cervix that require treatment. When these cell changes are seen on a Pap test you need to see a specialist (usually a gynaecologist) for further investigation. High grade cell changes can be treated easily and successfully if detected early. If left untreated, they have a greater chance of developing into cervical cancer over many years.
HPV Types 16 & 18
Infection with high-risk HPV types 16 & 18 can cause more serious cell changes not always seen on a Pap test, especially in the early stages of infection. Although your body may clear this infection, we recommend you have a colposcopy (see below) where a specialist can look closely at your cervix.
Persistent Infection with Other High-risk HPV Types
Although infection with other high-risk HPV types (not 16 or 18) is a lower risk than with HPV types 16 or 18, persistent infection (i.e. for 12 months or more) with any type of high-risk HPV increases your risk of having cell changes which may require treatment. For this reason, we recommend colposcopy if you have persistent infection with any of the high-risk HPV types.
What is a colposcopy?
A colposcopy is a medical examination in which a specialist looks closely at the cervix using a special microscope for magnification. If an abnormal area is seen a tiny sample of cells is taken. This is called a biopsy. These cells are sent to the laboratory for further tests.
Having a colposcopy is just like having a Pap test, but it takes longer; usually about 10-15 minutes. It can be done in the doctor’s clinic. If a biopsy is taken your health practitioner will get the biopsy report within a week. They will then be able to discuss with you whether you need treatment and, if so, what type of treatment if best for you.