Pap Test
all information

Pap Test

(Pap Smear; Pap Screening; Papanicolaou Test; Cervical Cancer Screening)

En Español (Spanish Version)


A diagnostic test of a sample of cells from the surface of a woman's cervix to check for abnormalities that can develop into cancer


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Parts of the Body Involved

  • Vagina
  • Cervix

Reasons for Procedure

A Pap test is typically done as part of a pelvic exam. It is done to check cervical cells for:

  • Changes or abnormalities ( cervical dysplasia ) that could develop into cancer
  • Infection or inflammation of the cervix

Cervical cancer develops slowly. Abnormalities detected early can be treated before cancer develops.

Risk Factors for Complications During the Procedure


What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

  • Do not schedule the Pap test during your menstrual period. If possible, schedule it two weeks after the first day of your period.
  • Do not use vaginal creams, medications, or douches for 72 hours before the test.
  • Do not use contraceptives such as spermicidal foams, creams, or jellies for 72 hours before the test.
  • Do not have sex for 24 hours before the test.

Tell your doctor if you:

  • Are having your period
  • Are pregnant
  • Had a previous Pap test showing abnormalities
  • Are sexually active
  • Have been exposed to HPV or other sexually-transmitted diseases
  • Have had abnormal vaginal discharges or vaginal infections
  • Have had surgery, radiation treatment , or chemotherapy
  • Are taking birth control pills , hormone pills, or using hormone cream



Description of the Procedure

You lie on your back on an examination table. You will spread your legs and place your feet in foot rests. The doctor will insert a speculum, a medical tool, gently into your vagina. A wooden swab, brush, or stick is also inserted. It is used to wipe the walls of the cervix to get cervical cells. The speculum is removed, and the cervical cells are placed in a fluid-filled bottle or on a glass microscope slide. The cells are sent to a lab for testing.

After Procedure

After the speculum is removed, a pelvic exam is done. The doctor checks your uterus, vagina, fallopian tubes, rectum, and bladder.

How Long Will It Take?

The pelvic exam takes less than five minutes. The Pap test takes less than two 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.

Possible Complications


Average Hospital Stay



Results of your Pap test are sent to your doctor within 2-3 weeks. Your doctor will then inform you of the results. If needed, she will talk to you about follow-up testing or treatment:

  • If cells are normal, no treatment is needed. Have another Pap test with your next yearly pelvic exam.
  • If an infection is found, treatment will be prescribed.
  • If abnormalities are found, further tests will be done. Once your doctor determines the cause, she will discuss treatment options with you. Further tests include:
    • Colposcopy —examination of the vagina and cervix with an endoscope, a fiberoptic tube attached to a viewing device
    • Biopsy —removal of a small amount of cervical tissue for further testing

Call Your Doctor If Any of the Following Occurs

  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Vaginal bleeding between menstrual periods or after menopause
  • Bleeding after sex
  • Foul vaginal odor, pain, or unusual vaginal discharge
  • Severe abdominal pain or swelling


American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

The National Women's Health Information Center


The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada

Women's Health Matters


College of American Pathologists. College of American Pathologists website. Available at: . Accessed June 9, 2008.

Pap smear. University of Iowa Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology website. Available at: . Updated 2004. Accessed June 9, 2008.

Last reviewed January 2008 by Jeff Andrews, MD

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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