What Is a Pap Test?

 

A Pap test, also called a Pap smear, is an exam a doctor uses to test for cervical cancer in women. It can also reveal changes in your cervical cells that may turn into cancer later.

 

How the Test is Performed

 

You lie on a table and place your feet in stirrups. The health care provider gently places an instrument called a speculum into the vagina to open it slightly. This allows the provider to see inside the vagina and cervix.

 

How to Prepare for the Test

 

Tell your provider about all the medicines you are taking. Some birth control pills that contain estrogen or progestin may affect test results.

 

See your GP if you've experienced one of the changes listed below and it's lasted for more than a few weeks:

 

Also tell your provider if you:

 
  • Have had an abnormal Pap test
  • Might be pregnant

DO NOT do the following for 24 hours before the test:

 
  • Douche (douching should never be done)
  • Have intercourse
  • Use tampons

How the Test will Feel

 

A Pap test causes little to no discomfort for most women. It can cause some discomfort, similar to menstrual cramps. You may also feel some pressure during the exam.

 

Why the Test is Performed

 

The Pap test is a screening test for cervical cancer. Most cervical cancers can be detected early if a woman has routine Pap tests.

 

Screening should start at age 21.

 

After the first test:

 
  • You should have a Pap test every 3 years to check for cervical cancer.
  • If you are over age 30 and you also have HPV testing done, and both the Pap test and HPV test are normal, you can be tested every 5 years (HPV is the human papillomavirus, the virus that causes genital warts and cervical cancer).
  • Most women can stop having Pap tests after age 65 to 70 as long as they have had 3 negative tests within the past 10 years.

Unexplained weight loss:

 

You should also see your GP if you've lost a lot of weight over the last couple of months that can't be explained by changes to your diet, exercise or stress.