A Pap smear is an examination under the microscope of cells scraped from the tip of the
How the test is performed
The Pap smear is done as part of a gynecological exam. You will lie on a table and place your feet in stirrups to position your pelvis for examination. The health care provider will insert an instrument (speculum) into your
The health care provider will take a sample of cells from the outside and just inside the opening of the cervix (cervical canal) by gently scraping the outside of the cervix with a wooden or plastic spatula, then inserting a small brush that looks like a pipe cleaner into the canal.
The cells are placed on a glass slide, or put in a bottle containing a preservative, and then sent to the lab for examination.
How to prepare for the test
Tell your health care provider if you:
- Are taking any medications or birth control pills
- Have had an abnormal Pap smear
- Might be pregnant
Within 24 hours of the test, avoid:
- Having intercourse
- Taking a tub bath
- Using tampons
Avoid scheduling your Pap smear while you have your period (are menstruating), because blood and cells from the uterus may affect the accuracy of the Pap smear. Empty your bladder just before the test.
How the test will feel
You may have some discomfort, similar to menstrual cramps, and a feeling of pressure during the procedure. You may bleed a little bit after the test.
Why the test is performed
The Pap smear can detect
Screening should start within 3 years after first having vaginal intercourse or by age 21. After the first test:
- Woman should have a Pap smear ever 2 years to check for cervical cancer.
- If you are over age 30 or your Pap smears have been negative for 3 times in a row, your doctor may tell you that you only need a Pap smear every 3 years.
- If you or your sexual partner have other new partners, then you should have a Pap smear every 2 years.
- After age 65-70, most women can stop having Pap smears as long as they have had three negative tests within the past 10 years.
- If you have a new sexual partner after age 65, you should begin having Pap smear screening again.
Women who have had a total hysterectomy (uterus and cervix removed) and have not had any previous history of cervical dysplasia (abnormal cells), cervical cancer, or any other kind of pelvic cancer, may not need to have Pap smears.
Review Date: 03/30/2010
Reviewed By: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc., and Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Redmond, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine.