What is HPV?
HPV (human papillomavirus) is a virus that will infect 80% of teens and adults during their lifetime, according to the CDC. It’s the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in America and the main cause of cervical cancer in women. Often HPV will resolve itself rather than leading to serious health concerns. However, if HPV sticks around, it can cause complications such as genital warts and even cancer of the cervix, vagina, vulva, anus, penis, throat, tongue, or tonsils.
You can become infected with HPV through sexual activities with a partner who has the virus. HPV is often symptomless until years after you’ve contracted the virus, which is why it easily gets passed onto others without either partner realizing they’ve been infected.
Although you may not have any symptoms of HPV, here are some to look out for:
- Bleeding in between your periods
- Bleeding or pain while having sex
- For women, skin-colored genital warts or pink growths usually on the opening of the vagina, cervix or anus.
- For men, skin-colored genital warts or pink growths on the scrotum, shaft of a circumcised penis, or underneath the foreskin of an uncircumcised penis
- Burning, itching, or tenderness in the genitals
If you are sexually active, you should consider taking an HPV test because people who have unprotected sex have an increased risk of STIs and should therefore test often. Some doctors advise patients to test three weeks after possibly being exposed to HPV, and retesting three months later to confirm the result. For women, when HPV is found early enough, treatment can be used to prevent cancerous and precancerous cells in the cervix.
A home HPV test allows you to test on your time, so you don’t have to deal with the hassle of scheduling an appointment. You also do the test yourself, so you can avoid any uncomfortable conversations with medical staff.
Home HPV tests vary in cost from $67-$139. There are many home testing kits that check for HPV, but here are a few reputable companies:
- Lets Get Checked, suitable for all sexually active women
- Private iDNA, for women and men
- myLAB Box, for women over 30
- SelfCollect, for men and women
- Health Test Express, for all sexually active women
Before you purchase, be sure to read who the test is intended for. Some kits are only for women; some are for both men and women but require you to choose which gender before buying the kit; and some kits are only offered to women over a certain age.
Rather than booking an appointment in a lab or with a doctor, you can order a home HPV test online and it will arrive in the mail within 1-3 days.
Collect a sample.
Samples vary depending on which kit you purchase and what gender you are. Most will require a urine sample or vaginal swab. Detailed instructions will be included in the kit so you don’t have to worry about how to collect the sample—they’ll walk you through it.
Mail the sample back.
Place the sample back into the pre-paid package and ship it to the lab.
Get your results.
Most kits will post your results to an online, secure and private platform within 2-5 business days of receiving your sample. Many kits boast that your results will be reviewed by certified medical professionals and you can have a consultation with one of their medical professionals about your results.
HPV is actually a group of over 150 viruses that are related, and each virus in the group has a number, which is known as its HPV type (for instance, HPV 16). Of the 150 strains of the virus, there are 40 that lead to a genital area infection. And 14 of those are considered high-risk HPV (hrHPV) and, if untreated, can lead to cervical cancer. Depending on the home testing kit you purchase, your results will indicate if you have certain hrHPV strains. Most, but not all, tests check for HPV 16 & HPV 18 as well as types 31, 33, 35, 39, 45, 51, 52, 56, 58, 59, 66, and 68.
The results will indicate whether or not you have an infection. The report will be sent via email or through the company’s secure and private online portal.
If your results are negative, you likely do not have HPV. However, if you continue to be sexually active, consider testing periodically to make sure you have not become infected since your last test.
If your test results are positive, it’s recommended that you share the report with your physician so he or she can help you find treatment. Although there is not a cure for HPV, there are options to treat and manage the infection.
Along with your results, some companies will include a consultation with a doctor or medical professional. They also can put you into contact with local doctors who can help you get further care and treatment if necessary.
Home HPV test kits are around 99.9% accurate. Most companies use labs that are certified by the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA); all of our recommendations above are CLIA-certified aside from LetsGetChecked. All of our recommended tests are HIPAA-compliant, so your privacy will be maintained.
Remember that home HPV tests are meant for informational and educational purposes. Tests aren’t meant to replace a consultation with a doctor. You should share your results your healthcare provider so that you can seek professional advice for treatment options and determine what your next steps should be.