Understanding HPV tests and their appropriate applications



H. A. Cubie, HPV Research Group, The Queen's Medical Research Institute, University of Edinburgh MRC Centre for Reproductive Health, 47 Little France Crescent, Edinburgh EH16 4TJ, UK

Tel.: +44-0-131-242-6625; Fax: +44-0-131 242 6008;

E-mails: heather.cubie@nhslothian.scot.nhs.uk; heather.cubie@ed.ac.uk


Greater understanding of the role played by human papillomavirus (HPV) in the causation of disease has led to the development of an increasing number of HPV tests with different characteristics. The bewildering choice facing healthcare professionals and providers is daunting. Clearly, HPV testing is no longer simply of research interest, but can provide information that can be used for individual patient management and at the population level for cervical screening and vaccine surveillance. This review aims to provide the background to the development of HPV tests, to explain the different technologies and to discuss the challenges of the application of these optimally in the varied contexts of disease management.

Few HPV tests are approved for clinical use and it is important that clinicians understand which test can be utilized, in what circumstances, with what specimens and the meaning of the report issued. HPV testing is no longer applicable only to cervical disease, and we have suggested additional areas, such as the oropharynx, in which HPV testing services might be implemented in the near future. New tests will continue to emerge and we have identified some of the indirect measures of HPV activity, or biomarkers, that could help in the risk stratification of HPV infection and associated disease.

The challenges relating to the optimal application of the various HPV technologies are compounded by the lack of evidence regarding their performance in vaccinated populations. Currently published work, including modelling studies, has been undertaken in non-immunized populations. We therefore end by addressing the issues regarding appropriate strategies and tests for immunized populations.