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Women's Health

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Pap Test

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What Is a Pap Test?

A Pap test is a test of a sample of cells taken from a woman's cervix or vagina. The test is used to look for changes in the cells of the cervix or vagina that show cancer or conditions that may develop into cancer.

It is the best tool to detect precancerous conditions and hidden, small tumors that may lead to cervical cancer. If detected early, cervical cancer can be cured.

Make sure you get a Pap test to check for cervical cancer every 3 years if you are 21 or older. If you are age 30-65, you can get both a Pap test and HPV test every 5 years. Older than that, you may be able to stop testing if your doctor says you're low risk. If you are sexually active and have a higher risk for STDs, get tests for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis yearly. Take an HIV test at least once, more frequently if you’re at risk.  

How Is a Pap Test Performed?

The Pap test is done during a pelvic exam. A doctor uses a device called a speculum to widen the opening of the vagina so that the cervix and vagina can be examined. A plastic spatula and small brush are used to collect cells from the cervix. After the cells are taken, they are placed into a solution. The solution is sent to a lab for testing.

Is the Pap Test Painful?

A Pap test is not painful but may be a little uncomfortable.

When Will I Know the Results of the Pap Test?

It generally takes about a week to get the test results. If you haven't heard from your doctor's office after three weeks, give them a call to see if your results have come back.

What Do the Results of a Pap Test Mean?

A normal Pap test means the cells from the cervix look normal. An abnormal Pap test means the cells do not look normal. Sometimes repeat Pap tests are needed. Different tests also may need to be done, such as a colposcopy (the use of a special microscope to examine the cervix and vagina). Pap tests can occasionally show signs of infection but cannot be relied on to screen for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Other tests are necessary to determine the presence of an STD. There are several things you can do to help make the Pap test as accurate as possible. These include avoidance of sex, douching, and vaginal creams for 48 hours before the test.

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