Pap Smear

What is a Pap smear procedure?

A Pap smear, also called a Pap (Papanicolaou) test, is a screening procedure used to test for cervical cancer. It may also detect precancerous cervical cells.

  • If you have cervical cancer, finding it early gives you the best chance of successfully treating it.
  • If you don’t have cervical cancer, finding cell changes early can help prevent you from developing cancer.

How is a Pap smear done?

  • A Pap smear is done in the doctor’s office and only takes a few minutes.
  • You will lie on the exam table with your feet resting in stirrups.
  • The doctor will insert a plastic instrument into your vagina that allows the doctor to see your cervix.
  • The doctor will use a small swab or brush to take a sample of cells from your cervix.
  • The swab or brush will be sent to the lab for review.

Pap smears are not painful for most people. You may feel a little pinch or a bit of pressure, which may be uncomfortable. The results will either be negative (normal) or positive (abnormal).

There are several reasons you could have a positive, or abnormal, Pap smear.

  • Mild inflammation or minor cell changes (dysplasia).
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) or other vaginal infection.
  • Cancerous or pre-cancerous cells.

How often is a Pap smear done?

Pap smears should be done on a regular basis for people with cervixes ages 21-65, typically every 3 years.

If you have certain health concerns, your doctor may recommend that you have a Pap smear procedure more often.

Some of these health concerns include:

  • A personal or family history of cervical cancer or a Pap smear that revealed precancerous cells.
  • HIV infection.
  • A weakened immune system due to an organ transplant, chemotherapy, or chronic corticosteroid use.
  • Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth.

Always talk to your doctor if you have questions or concerns.

How do I prepare for a Pap smear?