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A Pap test, often called a Pap smear, checks for changes in the cells of your cervix, the opening to the uterus. The Pap test can tell if you have an infection or abnormal cells that could lead to cervical cancer.

During a Pap test, your doctor will collect a small sample of cells from the surface of the cervix. The sample is then sent to the lab to be examined under a microscope. A Pap test is not required every year. Depending on your age and the results of previous pap testing you may be able to have pap testing done less frequently than in the years past.

Why Do I Need A Pap Test?

A Pap test can save your life. It can detect the earliest signs of cervical cancer — a cancer in women. If abnormal cells are caught early, the chances of curing cervical cancer are very high. Treatment can prevent most abnormal cells from developing into cervical cancer.

How Is A Pap Test Done?

The Pap test is a simple and quick test. While you lie on the exam table, your provider will use an instrument called a speculum to open your vagina and view your cervix. They will then use a special brush to take a sampling of cells from inside and around the cervix. While usually painless, a Pap test may be slightly uncomfortable for some women.

How Do I Prepare For A Pap Test?

Several factors can cause false test results by washing away or hiding abnormal cells. For two days before your test, you should avoid disrupting the cervical cells in any way, including:

  • Douching
  • Using vaginal creams, suppositories, or medicine
  • Using vaginal deodorant sprays or powders

Can I Have A Pap Test When I Have My Period?

Depending on how heavy your flow, your provider may suggest you schedule your Pap test when you do not have your period. The best time to be tested is 10 to 20 days after the first day of your last period.

What Do Abnormal Pap Test Results Mean?

It is scary to hear that your Pap test results are “abnormal.” But abnormal Pap test results usually do not mean you have cancer. Most often there is a small problem with the cervix.

Your doctor may tell you that your Pap test indicates a condition known as Atypical Squamous Cells of Undetermined Significance, or ASCUS.  This means that you have thin, flat cells growing on the surface of your cervix, but these changes don’t necessarily indicate the presence of pre-cancerous cells. Your doctor may recommend that you have a test for human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a virus that can sometimes lead to cervical cancer. If no virus is found, your doctor may recommend that you have another Pap test in 12 months.

Some abnormal cells will turn into cervical cancer. But most of the time, your immune system can fight off these cells and they will go away on their own. Almost all cases of cervical cancer can be prevented with proper monitoring and treatment of abnormal cells.

How Are Abnormal Cells Treated?

If you have abnormal cells, your doctor may simply recommend that you have another Pap test in 12 months to see if the abnormal cells are still present. In some cases, your doctor may want to perform a more detailed examination called a colposcopy.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, please contact the Center for Women’s Health at 913-491-6878.