Why are women usually not tested for HPV until age 25?

I am 21 years old and I am about to go to my first gynecologist appointment. Along with my annual Pap test, I wanted to get tested for sexually transmitted infections. I’ve heard before that doctors usually won’t screen for HPV until a patient is 25 years old even though it’s really common. Why is this? What else should I know?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States. According to the CDC, 80 percent of people will get an HPV infection in their lifetime.

Many strains of HPV are low risk and are not dangerous.  These strains are especially common in people under the age of 30.  Also, 90 percent of HPV infections will go away on their own.  For these reasons, public health experts recommend against routine HPV tests in young women.  Getting a positive result often leads to follow-up tests which have a small but real chance to causing complications.   

The HPV test also sometimes leads to  false-positive results. False-positive test results are positive screening tests, which are not subsequently confirmed by more intensive tests. These false-positive results are especially frequent in younger women.

An HPV test is taken during a vaginal exam. It can be combined with a Pap smear or taken separately.   

During a Pap test, HPV test, or a combination test, the doctor or nurse practitioner takes a sample of your cervical cells using a soft brush and a flat scraping device called a spatula. This procedure is typically not painful. According to Mayo Clinic, a woman may not even feel the procedure at all.

HPV vaccinations reduce the likelihood of being infected with HPV, but the vaccinations don’t completely protect against every infection, so it is important to get an HPV test even if you’ve been vaccinated.

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