A Pap test is done to look for changes in the
cells of the
cervix . During a Pap test, a small sample of cells
from the surface of the cervix is collected by your doctor. The
sample is then spread on a slide (Pap smear) or mixed in a liquid fixative
(liquid-based cytology) and sent to a lab for examination under a microscope.
The cells are examined for abnormalities that may indicate abnormal cell
changes, such as
The recommended Pap test schedule is based on your age and on things that increase your risk. For most women, it is best to have a Pap test every 1 to 3 years. Talk to your doctor about when to have your first Pap test and how often to have this test.
A high-risk type of the
human papillomavirus (HPV) is the cause of most cases
of cervical cancer. In women older than 30, an HPV test may be done at the same
time as a Pap test. If you are age 26 or younger, you can get the HPV shot to prevent infection with
the types of HPV that are most likely to cause cervical cancer.
your Pap test shows an abnormal result, see the topic
Abnormal Pap Test.
Why It Is Done
A Pap test is done to look for changes
in the cells of the
cervix. Finding these changes and treating them when
needed will greatly lower your chance of getting cervical cancer.
A Pap test is usually done as part of a woman's regular pelvic exam. For
more information, see the topic Pelvic Examination.
How To Prepare
Before a Pap test:
- Try to schedule the test when you are not having your period,
since blood can interfere with the results of the test. If your bleeding is
light, you may still be able to have a Pap test.
- Do not use douches, tampons, vaginal
medicines, sprays, or powders for at least 24 hours before having a Pap
At the beginning of your visit, tell your doctor:
- If you are or might be pregnant.
- If you have any
reproductive or urinary tract symptoms such as itching, redness, sores,
swelling, or an unusual odor or increased vaginal discharge. If you have been
performing regular vaginal self-exams, discuss any changes you have noticed
with your doctor. For more information, see the topic
Vaginal Self-Examination (VSE).
- If you are
using birth control.
- If this is your first Pap
- The first day of your last menstrual period and how long your
- If you have had surgery or other procedures such as
radiation therapy to the
vulva, or uterus.
If you have had problems with pelvic exams in the past or
have experienced rape or sexual abuse, talk to your doctor about
your concerns or fears before the exam.
No other special
preparations are needed before having a Pap test. For your own comfort, you may
want to empty your bladder before the exam.
Tell your doctor whether you have had an
abnormal Pap test in the past. Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding the need for the test or how
it will be done. To help you understand the importance of this test, fill out
medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).