Pap Test

A simple test with lifesaving results

A Pap test, also called Pap smear, is used to screen for cervical cancer, yeast infections, bacteria and viruses in the cervix. It is an important part of your preventative healthcare because it can detect precancerous conditions that allow you to receive treatment before cancer develops, or to detect cancer in early stages when it is more treatable.

Overview

A Pap test, also called Pap smear, is used to screen for cervical cancer, yeast infections, bacteria and viruses in the cervix. It is an important part of your preventative healthcare because it can detect precancerous conditions that allow you to receive treatment before cancer develops, or to detect cancer in early stages when it is more treatable.

Who Needs a Pap Test?

A Pap test is recommended for most women, ages 21 to 65. If you are under 30 years of age and have recently had a normal Pap test, you do not need to be tested again for three years. If you are over 30 years of age, and have recently had both a normal Pap test as well as a normal human papillomavirus (HPV) test, you do not need to be tested again for five years.

What Happens During a Pap Test?

To begin, your doctor will use a speculum (a metal or plastic instrument) to open the vaginal canal. A small tool will be inserted to lightly scrape and collect cells from the outer opening of the cervix. A Pap smear may be slightly uncomfortable, but should not be painful. The cells removed will be examined under a microscope to look for abnormalities.

What to Expect

Who Needs a Pap Test?

A Pap test is recommended for most women, ages 21 to 65. If you are under 30 years of age and have recently had a normal Pap test, you do not need to be tested again for three years. If you are over 30 years of age, and have recently had both a normal Pap test as well as a normal human papillomavirus (HPV) test, you do not need to be tested again for five years.

What Happens During a Pap Test?

To begin, your doctor will use a speculum (a metal or plastic instrument) to open the vaginal canal. A small tool will be inserted to lightly scrape and collect cells from the outer opening of the cervix. A Pap smear may be slightly uncomfortable, but should not be painful. The cells removed will be examined under a microscope to look for abnormalities.

Your Pap Test Results

An abnormal Pap test does not necessarily mean that you have cancer.

If you have had a Pap smear that has detected abnormal cells, your doctor may order additional tests, including:

  • Colposcopy: a special microscope called a colposcope is used to magnify cells and examine the cervix, vagina and vulva more closely for abnormalities.
  • Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP): an electric wire loop is used to obtain a piece of tissue from your cervix to examine it under the microscope.
  • Endocervical curettage: A narrow instrument called a curette is used to scrape the lining of the endocervical canal—usually done along with colposcopy.
  • Cervical biopsy: A special tool is used to remove tissue from the cervix to test for abnormal conditions
  • HPV DNA test: Detects the presence of cervical human papillomavirus (HPV) infection on cervical cells.

After Your Pap Test

Your Pap Test Results

An abnormal Pap test does not necessarily mean that you have cancer.

If you have had a Pap smear that has detected abnormal cells, your doctor may order additional tests, including:

  • Colposcopy: a special microscope called a colposcope is used to magnify cells and examine the cervix, vagina and vulva more closely for abnormalities.
  • Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP): an electric wire loop is used to obtain a piece of tissue from your cervix to examine it under the microscope.
  • Endocervical curettage: A narrow instrument called a curette is used to scrape the lining of the endocervical canal—usually done along with colposcopy.
  • Cervical biopsy: A special tool is used to remove tissue from the cervix to test for abnormal conditions
  • HPV DNA test: Detects the presence of cervical human papillomavirus (HPV) infection on cervical cells.

Patient Stories for Pap Test

American Cancer Society

This is a nationwide, community-based voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem.

National Cancer Institute

Part of the National Institutes of Health, this is the United States government's principal agency for cancer research and training.

Resources

American Cancer Society

This is a nationwide, community-based voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem.

National Cancer Institute

Part of the National Institutes of Health, this is the United States government's principal agency for cancer research and training.