Both tests aim to protect you from cervical cancer by catching pre-cancerous cells before they turn cancerous.
An HPV test screens for high-risk strains of HPV that are responsible for most cervical cancer. An HPV test only requires collecting a swab sample from inside the vagina, close to but not in the cervix. You can perform an HPV test at home in just minutes, and mail it to a lab. If high-risk HPV is present, you’ll need to follow up with your doctor for a Pap smear or a colposcopy to look for abnormal changes in your cervical cells. If your results are negative for high-risk HPV you are at very low risk of cervical cancer and mostly likely don’t need additional screening (either a Pap smear or HPV test) for three years, though testing recommendations vary by age and medical history.
A Pap test (also called a Pap smear) requires that you go to your healthcare provider’s office and receive a speculum exam. Your healthcare provider will collect cells from inside of your cervix, which are then observed under a microscope by a cytologist or pathologist. Abnormal cervical cells indicate a potential for cervical cancer and require close follow-up.