Skip to content

Women's Health

Font Size

Pap Technology

New techniques can better detect cervical problems.
WebMD Feature

Women have been going to their gynecologists for Pap tests for more than 50 years. And their vigilance has paid off: Mortality rates from cervical cancer have dropped 70%, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. But a woman's chance of getting a false negative -- a result that says she's healthy when she really has cancer or pre-cancerous cells -- is still between 10 and 25%, according to the ACOG.

Hoping to improve those odds, manufacturers have introduced several new methods that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These new methods -- whose brand names include Papnet, Autopap and ThinPrep -- use computers to help analyze slides.

Luis Galup, a pathologist at the South Bend Medical Foundation in South Bend, Ind., is a strong advocate of the ThinPrep system. Instead of smudging a slide with cells scraped from a woman's cervix -- the conventional method -- the cells are swirled into a tube filled with a preservative and sent to a lab. In the lab, technicians filter out the blood, mucus, and other debris. A random sample of the fluid is then placed onto a slide.

Recommended Related to Women

Women's Top 5 Sexual Fantasies and What They Mean

By Hilda Hutcherson, M.D. 1. Sex with another man (usually he's a celebrity). This doesn't mean you're dissatisfied with your real sex life, just that you're excited by new experiences — and, of course, gorgeous stars.2. Ménage à trois. If you're picturing yourself with two men, you want to be adored and doted on — heck, maybe even fought over. Thinking about yourself and your guy with another woman ignites the very sexy idea that other ladies find your guy attractive...

Read the Women's Top 5 Sexual Fantasies and What They Mean article > >

Easier-to-Read Samples

According to Galup, ThinPrep's method of collection keeps the collected cells from drying out, which results in a more uniform, debris-free sample. "It's so much easier to read," Galup says. An important advantage, he adds, is that the same ThinPrep fluid can be used to test for human papillomavirus, or HPV, which is associated with cervical cancer.

"In our eyes this was such a significant improvement that, in good conscience, we could not continue to accept conventional pap smears," Galup says. That decision caused problems for the lab, because many insurers would not pay the extra $15 to $20 for the procedure. Through public awareness campaigns, however, the lab has been able to regain any business it lost when it switched to ThinPrep. "The number of Pap tests we are analyzing is greater than before," Galup says.

Despite agreement among physicians that the ThinPrep Pap test is easier to read, cost is the number one reason the method is not yet widely used. "The coverage for the test by insurance companies is still uncertain," explains Laurie Green, an obstetrician-gynecologist practicing in San Francisco. "ThinPrep costs more than double that of a conventional Pap test in some cases. That's the kind of across-the-board increase that could disrupt the whole system," she says.

Today on WebMD

hands on abdomen
Test your knowledge.
womans hand on abdomen
Are you ready for baby?
birth control pills
Learn about your options.
Is it menopause or something else?
woman in bathtub
bp app on smartwatch and phone
estrogen gene

Send yourself a link to download the app.

Loading ...

Please wait...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.


Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

Blood pressure check
hot water bottle on stomach
Attractive young woman standing in front of mirror