Most common methods to diagnose HPV infection are two. A direct diagnosis is made in order to detect the genetic material of the virus by collecting cells from the cervix.
An indirect diagnosis is made by detecting inflammatory symptoms of HPV infection. There can be two kinds of symptoms:
- genital warts, visible to the naked eye
- subclinical symptoms, which are diagnosed through a Pap test or a biopsy taken during colposcopy.
Even though genital warts are visible symptoms, precancerous lesions are asymptomatic. They are detected through a Pap test and an HPV DNA test.
Sometimes, in order to diagnose a problem, it is necessary to perform an endocervical and endometrial curettage.
In a Pap test screening the doctor uses a special brush to collect squamous, glandular and metaplastic cells. The cells are taken to the laboratory, where using special spray or an ethyl alcohol solution they are stained and tested for infections through a microscope.
The HPV tests can show signs of precancerous HPV processes in the cervix, but it does not identify a specific type of HPV. It serves as an adjunct to Pap testing.
Finally, a PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test can detect even the slightest chance of HPV infection. It identifies the types of HPV infection, but it does not provide us with information about their viral load. Due to the fact that
the test needs to be conducted in specialised laboratories, it is not used for routine screening of the general public.