Useful Resources & Factsheets

Pap Smears

What is a Pap smear?

The Pap test also called a Pap smear, checks for changes in the cells of your cervix. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus (womb) that opens into the vagina (birth canal). The Pap test can tell if you have an infection, abnormal (unhealthy) cervical cells, or cervical cancer. During a Pap smear, your doctor takes a sample of cells from your cervix to be tested and examined. A Pap test is safe with no known medical risks.

Why is a Pap test performed?

A Pap test can save your life. It can find the earliest signs of cervical cancer. If diagnosed early, the chance of curing cervical cancer is very high. Pap tests also can find infections and abnormal cervical cells that can turn into cancer cells. Treatment can prevent most cases of cervical cancer from developing.

Getting regular Pap tests is the best thing you can do to prevent cervical cancer. In fact, regular Pap tests have led to a major decline in the number of cervical cancer cases and deaths.

Who needs a pap smear?

It is important for all people with a cervix to have annual Pap tests, along with pelvic exams, as part of their routine health care.

If you have been or are sexually active you require regular pap smears.

There is no age limit for the Pap test. Even those who are part of the LGBTQ community or have gone through menopause need regular Pap tests. People ages 65 to 70 can talk to their doctor about stopping after at least 3 normal Pap tests and no abnormal results in the last 10 years.

How to prepare for a Pap test?

Many things can cause wrong test results by washing away or hiding abnormal cells of the cervix.
So, doctors suggest that for 2 days before the test you avoid:

  • Douching
  • Using tampons
  • Using vaginal creams, suppositories, and medicines
  • Using vaginal deodorant sprays or powders

Make sure to empty your bladder just before your exam for a more comfortable examination. Doctors suggest you to schedule a Pap test when you do not have your period. The best time to be tested is 10 to 20 days after the first day of your last period.

How is a Pap test done?

Your doctor can do a Pap smear during a pelvic exam. It is a simple and quick test. While you lie on an exam table, the doctor puts an instrument called a speculum into your vagina, opening it to see the cervix.

The doctor performing the examination:

  • Looks for lumps, sores, inflammation, or other abnormalities of the external genitals..
  • Inserts a metal or plastic instrument called a speculum into the vagina.
  • Uses a small disposable swab, wooden spatula, brush, or soft-bristled “broom” to remove cells from the entrance to the canal that connects the cervix with the uterus.
  • Places the cell sample on a glass slide, which is sent to a laboratory for examination under a microscope.

While usually painless, a Pap test is uncomfortable for some people.

What do abnormal Pap smear results mean?

Abnormal Pap test results usually do not mean you have cancer. Most often there is a small problem with the cervix. Some abnormal cells may turn into cancer. But most of the time, these unhealthy cells will go away on their own. By treating these unhealthy cells, almost all cases of cervical cancer can be prevented. If you have abnormal results, then consult with your health care provider about what they mean.

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