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Everything you ever wanted to know about the Pap test

A Pap test is a quick and simple test that looks for any changes in the cells of the cervix. It’s usually done in your doctor’s office or in a clinic – and though it can be uncomfortable, it shouldn’t be painful.

Preparing for your testNurse showing a female patient her test results.

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.

48 hours before your Pap test

Don’t use vaginal douche, any vaginal medications or contraceptive (spermicidal) creams, foams or jellies (unless your doctor has told you to). These products may wash away or hide abnormal cells.

24 hours before your Pap test

Avoid having sex.

What happens during a Pap test

The doctor or nurse 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 get 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 lab where it’s looked at under a microscope. If the screening test shows a change or abnormality, you may have follow-up tests. They could include:

  • another Pap test
  • an HPV test
  • colposcopy
  • biopsy

An abnormal Pap test means that there have been changes to the cells living the cervix. In some cases, it means that a precancerous condition is present. These can be treated successfully so they don’t develop into cancer. Most precancerous changes in the cervix are caused by HPV infection.


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