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HPV Test vs Pap Smear: What Should You Know About Them?

Medically reviewed by John Paul Abrina, MD · Oncology · Davao Doctors Hospital

Written by Hazel Caingcoy · Updated May 30, 2021

HPV Test vs Pap Smear: What Should You Know About Them?

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the world. It is the virus responsible for the development of abnormal cervical cells that would eventually lead to cervical cancerWomen, especially those over the age of 30, are recommended to have a routinary HPV test, which is usually done together with a pap-smear (co-testing). The difference between HPV test vs pap smear lies in what is being screened during the procedure. 

HPV and Cervical Cancer: What’s the connection?

What Does the HPV Test Check? 

The HPV test is a screening for high-risk strains of human papillomavirus that might cause cancer. It is not a test if a person has cervical cancer. Certain types of HPV put a person at risk of developing cancer which is why early detection and monitoring is important.

HPV does not always cause cervical cancer. There are 100 strains of the virus and most of them do not lead to more serious conditions.

In young people under the age of 30, HPV is very common and screening for the virus will often garner a positive result. However, it is usually not a cause for concern as the immune system can clear it up. 

Most HPV infections clear up after a year or two and do not cause any harm but for women over the age of 30, certain strains of HPV might be risky. If a person tests positive for any of the high-risk strains, they will be monitored and scheduled for a follow up with their doctor.

What Does the Pap Smear Check?

The Pap Smear, also known as Papanicolaou test, is a procedure done to check if there are any abnormal cell changes in the cervix. The test checks for cancer or any changes in the cells of the cervix that might eventually lead to cancer. 

Abnormal findings don’t necessarily mean that the person has cancer. A pap smear may also detect inflammation and other infections. 

A Pap Smear can also be done together with a pelvic exam. During a pelvic exam, the doctor will examine the parts of the patient’s reproductive system including the vagina, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. 

What to Expect During Your First Pap Smear

HPV Test vs Pap Smear

When it comes to how the procedure is being done, there is not that much difference between an HPV Test vs Pap Smear. 

The patient will be asked to lie down on an exam table with the knees bent and the legs apart. The doctor will gently slide a speculum into the vagina. A speculum is a metal or plastic instrument used to open the walls of the vagina. 

A brush or spatula is used to gently take some samples of the cells from the cervix. The cells from the cervix are then taken to the laboratory to be checked under a microscope. 

For a Pap Smear, abnormalities in the cervix cells are checked while the HPV Test checks if the patient is positive for any HPV strains that might cause cervical cancer. 

Additional Diagnostic Test for Women

Getting a Pap Smear vs HPV test is not the only decision a woman has to make with their doctor. They might also talk about the other diagnostic tests.

As women get older, they are more likely to develop diseases in their reproductive systems. Getting the prescribed routine test for your age can significantly reduce the risk of developing infections and diseases.

Here are other tests women should consider taking:


A low-dose x-ray used to detect breast cancer. Mammography can detect early and subtle signs of breast cancer even before the patient feels any lumps or shows any signs or symptoms of the disease. 

Ovarian Reserve Test

A test that checks the potential number of eggs a woman has in her ovaries. 

Sonogram of the pelvic area

Ultrasound imaging used to check for abnormalities in the womb and fallopian tube. This test also checks if the patient has polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a common condition caused by an imbalance in the hormones that sometimes lead to infertility. 

Tests for Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

If a woman is sexually active it is advised that she have a full panel STD test at least once a year. Many STDs do not manifest signs and symptoms which makes them difficult to detect early. Full-panel STD test usually includes tests for chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, hepatitis, herpes, and syphilis. Blood and urine samples are taken for these tests. 

Key Takeaways

It takes years or even decades before HPV can cause cancer so getting an HPV test is important for early detection especially for women over the age 30. An HPV test is usually done together with a Pap Smear. Routinary diagnostic tests usually depend on the age and the risk factors of the patient. Diagnostic tests for women include mammography, a sonogram of the pelvic area, ovarian reserve test, and a full-panel STD test. 

Learn more about Sexual Wellness and HPV here.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

John Paul Abrina, MD

Oncology · Davao Doctors Hospital

Written by Hazel Caingcoy · Updated May 30, 2021

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