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Pap Test
What is it? Overview Usage Side Effects and Warnings

Pap Test Overview

Written by FoundHealth.


The cervix is the opening to the uterus (womb). It can be seen at the top of the vagina. The cells on the cervix can become cancerous. The change from normal cells to cancer cells takes time. 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.

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What to Expect

Prior to Test

  • 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, medicines, 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
  • Have had a previous Pap test showing abnormalities
  • Have had any cervical procedures, like LEEP .
  • 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 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 walls of the cervix. 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.

After Test

You will be able to leave after the test is done.

How Long Will It Take?

The pelvic exam takes less than five 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.


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:

  • If cells are normal, no treatment is needed. You will continue your regular pap test screens.
  • 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 may include:
  • Colposcopy —examination of the vagina and cervix with a low-power microscope
  • Biopsy —removal of a small amount of cervical tissue for further testing



American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists



The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada

Women's Health Matters


American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. First cervical cancer screening delayed until age 21 less frequent Pap tests recommended. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. Available at: . Published November 20, 2009. Accessed November 23, 2009.

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

Grady D. Guidelines push back age for cervical cancer tests. The New York Times website. Available at: . Published November 20, 2009. Accessed November 23, 2009.

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



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