The spike in sexually transmitted infections in recent years has exploded alarmingly. Today, the most widespread sexually transmitted disease is the Human Papilloma Virus, and perhaps due to ignorance or misinformation, we do not have all the weapons at our disposal to fight it. It is an infection that spreads very easily, both in vaginal, anal and oral contact, and that affects both men and women. Today I want to focus on a very repeated question by many women in consultation and on social networks: What is the test for the Human Papilloma Virus?
The most widespread technique for diagnosing HPV is cytology. It is necessary to differentiate between the cytology itself and the one used for the possible study of the infection, since it will depend on a couple of factors:
- The tools that gynecologists use for taking the sample, because although the procedure is similar, they will vary slightly. Although the woman will not notice anything, as the sample extraction process is very similar.
- The laboratory that will analyze the samples, whether there is DNA of the virus, that is, whether the virus exists or not, or whether the virus has damaged our cells. There are laboratories in which the cytology sample is taken as a whole (normally we take a sample using a swab or brush from the external cervical os and dilute the sample in a liquid, which is what is sent to the laboratory and it analyzes). But there are other laboratories or ways of working that only analyze the cells that go in the sample, so in order for them to analyze whether or not there is a papilloma virus, they need another sample to process it differently in the laboratory, analyzing the presence of DNA.
So one thing is that we have the infection, so the virus may be there, but it is not doing damage or injuring the cells in which it is living (better known as a subclinical infection). We have it, we are carriers, we must know it and we must be careful in sexual relations and protect ourselves. Normally our immunity in these cases ends up eliminating it. And another different situation is that we have an infection and, in addition, it alters the result of the cytology and that is what the screenings are for. It is currently being performed in certain public health services every three-year period according to protocols, but it is true that, with advances in diagnosis, these algorithms are changing.
Progressively, the analysis is being established with new improvements to analyze not only cell damage but also the presence of the virus, and this methodology is increasingly widespread. Therefore, it is not a different test in itself to a cytology, it is part of the action that we carry out in the consultation when the sample is extracted. You, as a patient, should not notice anything 'extra' when performing your cytological examination.
When you go to your gynecological check-up or consultation, you can find out about the mechanics in your clinic or medical center of reference. Do not be afraid or shy to ask when you are with your gynecologist, how is the process and have information. We doctors are for that.
Finally, I take this opportunity to remind you that taking cytology should not be painful at any time, something that worries many women excessively. Otherwise you must let the person - gynecologist or midwife - know that he is doing it to you.
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