(Pap Smear; Pap Screening; Papanicolaou Test; Cervical Cancer Screening)
by Editorial Staff and Contributors
The cervix is the opening to the uterus. The cells on the cervix can become cancerous. Changes detected early can be treated before cancer develops. A Pap test is a way to look for changing or cancerous cells on the cervix.
Reasons for Test
Talk to your doctor about when you should have Pap tests done. Professional health organizations have differing guidelines.
There are no major complications associated with this test.
What to Expect
Prior to Test
Tell your doctor if you:
Description of Test
You will lie on your back on an examination table. You will place your feet in foot rests. A speculum will be inserted into the vagina. It will gently open the vagina. A fine brush or spatula will be used to wipe the surface of the cervix and its canal. The speculum will be removed. The cervical cells that stuck to the tools will be placed in a fluid-filled bottle. The cells will then be sent to a lab for testing.
How Long Will It Take?
The pelvic exam takes less than 5 minutes.
Will It Hurt?
A Pap test is generally painless. You may feel some pressure or a small cramp when the cervix is wiped to gather cells.
The results of your Pap test are sent to your doctor within 2-3 weeks. Your doctor will inform you of the results. If needed, your doctor will talk to you about follow-up testing or treatment.
Call Your Doctor
After the test, call your doctor if any of the following occurs:
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Women's Health—US Department of Health and Human Services
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Women's Health Matters
2015 Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
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Updated January 25, 2017. Accessed December 13, 2017.
American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Practice Bulletin No. 140: management of abnormal cervical cancer screening test results and cervical cancer precursors. Obstet Gynecol. 2013;122(6):1338-1367.
Sampling of cervix for Papanicolaou smear. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed... . Updated July 7, 2017. Accessed December 13, 2017.
Last reviewed November 2018 by Beverly Siegal, MD, FACOG
Last Updated: 12/11/2015
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