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Cervical and anal screening

Infection with certain types of a common virus called human papillomavirus, or HPV, can cause cell changes in the cervix that can lead to cervical cancer. All HIV-positive women should have a cervical screening test soon after they are diagnosed with HIV. You should then have a repeat test once a year. (This is more often than for HIV-negative women, who are generally advised to be screened every three to five years. However, the age range for cervical screening for HIV-positive women is the same as that for women without HIV – 25 to 65 years of age.)

Some types of HPV can also cause cell changes in the anus. But the value of regular anal screening is much less certain, and currently it’s not recommended that it be included in routine monitoring, although some clinics may offer it. High-risk types of HPV can also cause vulval, vaginal, penile and some mouth and throat cancers.

Other monitoring tests for these cancers and cell changes include a colposcopy and an anoscopy. A colposcopy examines the cervix with a microscope under a very bright light, while an anoscopy does the same for the examination of the anus. Any abnormal cells can usually be treated under a local anaesthetic, using heat, cold or laser beams to burn away the cells, or electric current to remove them. Most commonly, abnormal cells in the cervix are removed using an electric current or through minor surgery, known as a cone biopsy, which can both diagnose and treat. The latter might mean you will need a general anaesthetic and possibly an overnight stay in hospital. 

CD4, viral load & other tests

Published July 2012

Last reviewed July 2012

Next review July 2015

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This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.