HPV infection is the cause of cancer of the cervix (see: HPV and Cancer). Here's a short quote from the National Cancer Institute about the etiology of this neoplasm: Virtually all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV, and just two HPV types, 16 and 18, are responsible for about 70 percent of all cases. Cytopathologists have long known about this association and kept it in mind when screening cervical specimens. Here's another quote from the NCI addressing the relationship between Pap tests and HPV testing:
HPV testing is used to look for the presence of high-risk HPV types in cervical cells. These tests can detect HPV infections that cause cell abnormalities, sometimes even before cell abnormalities are evident....Most [HPV] tests detect the DNA of high-risk HPV, although one test detects the RNA of high-risk HPV. Some tests detect any high-risk HPV and do not identify the specific type or types that are present.
Because of this correlation between HPV and cervical cancer, some researchers have been addressing the value of self-collected HPV specimens for cancer screening (see: Self-collected HPV testing viable option for cervical cancer screening). Below is an excerpt from an article on this topic:
Although cytology-based screening has helped reduce the percentage of cervical cancers, it often must be repeated to help identify underlying abnormalities that eventually could prove to be cancerous. HPV testing has demonstrated greater specificity and sensitivity than cytology-based screening for identification of precancerous lesions, according to study background. HPV testing also has the advantage of self-administration, as women can collect necessary samples themselves in a noninvasive manner and likely at reduced cost. Carolina Porras...and colleagues performed a secondary analysis of a large Costa Rican HPV vaccine trial to determine whether self-collected HPV samples could detect cervical intraepithelial neoplasia grade 2 or higher...and do so with the same accuracy as HPV tests administered by a clinician....The similar performance of the self-collected and the clinician-collected HPV test for detection of prevalent and incident disease indicate that this could represent an invaluable tool for improving screening coverage,” the researchers wrote. “Our data indicate that PCR HPV testing on a self-collected sample is feasible and well-accepted and provides sensitivity and specificity comparable with clinician-collected specimens. In addition, it detects disease earlier than cytology and should be considered in cervical cancer screening programs to reduce cost and improve coverage.”
As noted above, PCR HPV testing on self-collected samples seems to be an effective way to screen for dysplasia and cancer of the cervix and may detect these conditions earlier than cytologic examination. This made me wonder about the availability of such testing on the web. I then discovered the At Home HPV Test Kit with a vaginal HPV test costing $79. The company also offers a variety of STD tests for both men and women including tests for chlamydia and gonorrhea. I can't vouch for this company -- I only make reference to it as an example of HPV and STD testing on the web using self-collected specimens. I think that self-testing generally requires out-of-pocket payment whereas physician-initiated testing would be covered by health insurance. A physician visit also provides the opportunity for immediate treatment. Self-testing does offer privacy and this will be a viewed as an advantage by some.