Brief Description – The Pap smear (named after the doctor who invented the procedure – Dr Papanicolaou) is a screening test for cervical cancer. Cells scraped from the opening of the cervix which is the lower part of the uterus (womb) are examined under a microscope.
Why the Test is Performed
It is a screening test for cervical cancer. Most cervical cancers can be detected early if a woman has routine Pap smears. Screening should start at age 21. You should have a Pap smear every 3 years to check for cervical cancer.
Pap smear can also detect vaginal or uterine infections although doctors don’t routinely request for a pap smear for this purpose.
How the Test is Performed
- You lie on a table and place your feet in stirrups.
- The doctor gently places an instrument called a speculum into the vagina to open itslightly. This allows the doctor to see inside the vagina and cervix.
- Cells are gently scraped from the cervix area. The sample of cells is sent to a lab for examination.How to Prepare For the Test
Tell your doctor about all the drugs you are taking. Some birth control pills that contain oestrogen or progestin may affect test results. You should also tell your doctor if you have had an abnormal Pap smear in the past or might be pregnant. Do not do the following for 24 hours before the test:
- Douche (douching should never be done)
- Have sexual intercourse
- Use tamponsAvoid scheduling your Pap smear while you have your period (are menstruating). Blood may make the Pap smear results less accurate. If you are having unexpected bleeding, do not cancel your exam. Your doctor will determine if the Pap smear can still be done. Also empty your bladder just before the test.
During the Test
You may experience some discomfort during the test, similar to menstrual cramps. You may also feel some pressure during the exam.
After the Test
You may bleed a little bit after the test. If you are over age 30 and you also have HPV testing done, and both the Pap smear and HPV test are normal, you can be tested every 5 years. (HPV is the human papilloma virus, the virus that causes genital warts and cervical cancer.) Most women can stop having Pap smears after age 65 to 70 as long as they have had three negative tests within the past 10 years. You may not need to have a Pap smear if you have had a total hysterectomy (uterus and cervix removed) and have not had an abnormal Pap smear, cervical cancer, or other pelvic cancer. Discuss this with your doctor.
The risks are minimal but may include: bleeding and infection.