(Pap Smear; Pap Screening; Papanicolaou Test; Cervical Cancer Screening)
by Editorial Staff and Contributors
The cervix is the opening to the uterus (womb). 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 TOP
Talk to your doctor about when you should have Pap tests done. Professional health organizations have differing guidelines.
Possible Complications TOP
There are no major complications associated with this test.
What to Expect TOP
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. The doctor will insert a speculum into your vagina. It will gently open your 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? TOP
The pelvic exam takes less than five minutes.
Will It Hurt? TOP
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, she will talk to you about follow-up testing or treatment.
Call Your Doctor TOP
After the test, call your doctor if any of the following occurs:
In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
United States Department of Health and Human Services - Office on Women's Health
Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Women's Health Matters
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Cervical cytology screening. Obstet Gynecol . 2009 Dec;114(6):1409-20.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines, 2010. MMWR. 2010;59(No. RR-12):1-110.
Pap smear. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated August 3, 2012. Accessed October 9, 2012.
Last reviewed December 2013 by Andrea Chisholm, MD
Last Updated: 1/15/2014