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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.
A Pap test is often done as part of a pelvic exam. It is done to check cervical cells for
changes (cervical dysplasia) that could develop into cancer. It can also detect cancer cells.
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.
Tell your doctor if you:
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.
The pelvic exam takes less than 5 minutes.
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.
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
Office on Women's Health
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: http://www.cdc.gov/std/tg2015/default.htm. Updated October 21, 2015. Accessed December 11, 2015.
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 website. Available at:
http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T907152/Sampling-of-cervix-for-Papanicolaou-smear. Updated August 23, 2016. Accessed October 10, 2016.
Smith MA, Ebell MH. Cervical cancer screening and Pap smears. Essential Evidence Plus website. Available at: http://www.essentialevidenceplus.com. Accessed December 11, 2015.
Last reviewed December 2014 by Andrea Chisholm, MD
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Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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