A Pap test is a quick and simple test used to look for any changes in the cells of the cervix. It’s done in your doctor’s office and though it can be uncomfortable, it shouldn’t be painful.
Preparing for your test
Try to schedule your Pap test for the middle of your menstrual cycle – between 10 and 20 days after the first day of your period.
For 48 hours before your Pap test:
- Avoid vaginal douching.
- Don’t use any vaginal medications or contraceptive (spermicidal) creams, foams or jellies (except as directed by your physician), as these may wash away or hide abnormal cells.
For 24 hours before your Pap test:
At your doctor’s office
Your doctor will use a small wooden spatula to gently scrape the surface of the lower part of the cervix to pick up cells. A special brush called a cytobrush is used to obtain cells from the upper part of the cervix that leads into the uterus. The cells are then smeared onto a glass slide and the sample is sent to the laboratory where they’re examined under a microscope. If the screening test shows a change or abnormality, follow-up tests may be done. They could include:
- another Pap test
- an HPV test
Most abnormal Pap tests result from precancerous changes, which can be easily detected and treated successfully. Most precancerous changes result from cervical HPV infection. These changes are not cancer and are also known as dysplasia.