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Pap Smear

  • Definition

    A Papanicolaou test or "pap smear," named after its inventor George Papanicolaou, is used principally for the diagnosis of precancerous and cancerous conditions of the genital tract, which includes the vagina, cervix, and endometrium.

    Cervical cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related disease and death for women worldwide. The best way to prevent it is by having regular Pap smears.

    This test is also used to detect viral infections and for hormonal assessment and for diagnosis of sexually transmitted diseases.


    The first step in performing a Pap smear is to obtain a sample of the cervical cells. To do this the doctor will perform a pelvic examination. He or she will put an instrument called a speculum into the vagina. This instrument opens the vagina so the sample can be taken.

    The doctor will gently clean the cervix with a cotton swab and then collect a sample of cells from the cervix with a small brush, a tiny spatula or a cotton swab. This sample is "smeared" on a glass slide and sent to a laboratory for examination under a microscope by an expert. A newer form of pap smear, called the "Thin prep pap smear" involves placing the sample in liquid rather than on a slide. This type of pap smear may be more accurate than the slide method in detecting some cervical abnormalities.


    What are the results of the Pap smear?

    Is it abnormal? If so, what classification is it?

    Is further testing indicated?

    If dysplasia or carcinoma in situ is present, are you going to recommend the removal of these affected cells? What procedure are you going to be using?

    How often should Pap smears be done?