What is a Pap smear (Pap test)?

A Pap smear, also commonly referred to as a Pap test, is a diagnostic screening test for cervical cancer. During a pelvic exam, your doctor will take a sample of cells from your cervix to examine for any abnormal growth. The test is typically performed in your doctor’s office in a routine gynecological visit. 

Who is a candidate for a Pap smear?

Your gynecologist or family doctor will discuss when you should start getting regular Pap smears and how frequently you should have them. If you are not sexually active, you should start at 21 years old and get one every three years. If you are HIV-positive or have a weakened immune system, you may need to start earlier and have one more frequently. 

Patients over the age of 30 who have had three normal Pap smears, may be able to have one every five years if the test is done in conjunction with a human papovaviral screening (HPV). HPV types 16 and 18 are the primary causes of cervical cancer.

If you are over 65 and have not had any abnormal test results, you may be able to stop having Pap smears.

What are side effects of a Pap smear?

A Pap smear is generally a safe procedure. You may experience mild discomfort during the procedure, but it will subside soon after the instruments are removed from your vagina.

Other side effects may include:

  • Cramping
  • Vaginal bleeding

What to expect during a Pap smear?

Your doctor will instruct you to lie on your back with your legs spread and your feet in stirrups. Once in position, the doctor will insert a speculum into the vagina. The speculum keeps the walls of the vagina open, so your doctor can see and access the cervix. Your doctor will then take a sample of the cells from the cervix. You may experience mild irritation during the scraping.

Once your doctor has the sample, he or she will remove the instruments, preserve your sample and send it to a laboratory for examination.

Recovery from a Pap smear

A Pap smear is performed in a clinic visit. You will go home after your test and return to your normal activity level. If you experience abnormal bleeding after your Pap smear, call your doctor.

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