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Pap Test

Pap Test

Why am I having this test?

A Pap test, also called a Pap smear, is a screening test to check for signs of:
  • Cancer of the vagina, cervix, and uterus. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina.
  • Infection.
  • Changes that may be a sign that cancer is developing (precancerous changes).
Women need this test on a regular basis. In general, you should have a Pap test every 3 years until you reach menopause or age 65. Women aged 30–60 may choose to have their Pap test done at the same time as an HPV (human papillomavirus) test every 5 years (instead of every 3 years).
Your health care provider may recommend having Pap tests more or less often depending on your medical conditions and past Pap test results.

What kind of sample is taken?

Your health care provider will collect a sample of cells from the surface of your cervix. This will be done using a small cotton swab, plastic spatula, or brush. This sample is often collected during a pelvic exam, when you are lying on your back on an exam table with feet in footrests (stirrups).
In some cases, fluids (secretions) from the cervix or vagina may also be collected.

How do I prepare for this test?

  • Be aware of where you are in your menstrual cycle. If you are menstruating on the day of the test, you may be asked to reschedule.
  • You may need to reschedule if you have a known vaginal infection on the day of the test.
  • Follow instructions from your health care provider about:
    • Changing or stopping your regular medicines. Some medicines can cause abnormal test results, such as digitalis and tetracycline.
    • Avoiding douching or taking a bath the day before or the day of the test.

Tell a health care provider about:

  • Any allergies you have.
  • All medicines you are taking, including vitamins, herbs, eye drops, creams, and over-the-counter medicines.
  • Any blood disorders you have.
  • Any surgeries you have had.
  • Any medical conditions you have.
  • Whether you are pregnant or may be pregnant.

How are the results reported?

Your test results will be reported as either abnormal or normal.
A false-positive result can occur. A false positive is incorrect because it means that a condition is present when it is not.
A false-negative result can occur. A false negative is incorrect because it means that a condition is not present when it is.

What do the results mean?

A normal test result means that you do not have signs of cancer of the vagina, cervix, or uterus.
An abnormal result may mean that you have:
  • Cancer. A Pap test by itself is not enough to diagnose cancer. You will have more tests done in this case.
  • Precancerous changes in your vagina, cervix, or uterus.
  • Inflammation of the cervix.
  • An STD (sexually transmitted disease).
  • A fungal infection.
  • A parasite infection.
Talk with your health care provider about what your results mean.

Questions to ask your health care provider

Ask your health care provider, or the department that is doing the test:
  • When will my results be ready?
  • How will I get my results?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • What other tests do I need?
  • What are my next steps?

Summary

  • In general, women should have a Pap test every 3 years until they reach menopause or age 65.
  • Your health care provider will collect a sample of cells from the surface of your cervix. This will be done using a small cotton swab, plastic spatula, or brush.
  • In some cases, fluids (secretions) from the cervix or vagina may also be collected.

This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your health care provider. Make sure you discuss any questions you have with your health care provider.