How It Is Done
You will need to take off your clothes
below the waist and drape a paper or cloth covering around your waist. You will
then lie on your back on an examination table with your feet raised and
supported by footrests. This allows the doctor to examine your
external genital area, vagina, and cervix. You may want to wear socks to keep
your feet warm while they are in the footrests.
The doctor will insert a lubricated
speculum into your vagina. The speculum gently spreads
apart the vaginal walls, allowing the inside of the vagina and the cervix to be
Your doctor will collect several samples of
cells from your cervix using a cotton swab, brush (cytobrush or cervix brush),
or a small spatula. Cells are collected from the visible part of the cervix as
well as from its opening (endocervical canal). In women who do not have a
cervix, cells from the vagina are collected if a Pap test is needed. The cells
are smeared on a slide or mixed in a liquid fixative and sent to a lab for
examination under a microscope.
How It Feels
You will feel more comfortable during your
Pap test if you and the doctor are relaxed. Breathing deeply and
having a light conversation with your doctor may help you relax.
Holding your breath or tensing your muscles will increase your
You may feel some discomfort when the speculum is
inserted, especially if your vagina is irritated, tender, or narrow. You may
also feel pulling or pressure when the sample of cervical cells is being
There is very little chance of a problem from
having a Pap test. You may have a small amount of vaginal bleeding after this
test. And you may want to use a pad or panty liner to protect your
clothes from any spotting.
A Pap test is done to look for changes in
the cells of the
cervix . Results are usually available in 1 to 2 weeks.
Ask your doctor when you can expect the results.
In the United States, the
Bethesda system (TBS) is the most widely used system
for reporting Pap test results. It provides information about the quality of
the cell sample and the types of cell changes found.
The sample contained enough cells and no
abnormal cells were found.
The sample did not contain enough cells,
or abnormal cells were found. To learn more about abnormal Pap test
results, see the topic
Abnormal Pap Test.
What Affects the Test
Pap test results may be affected
- Menstrual blood on the slide. This can make it harder to examine
the cervical cells.
- A vaginal infection.
- The use of
douches or vaginal creams or preparations within 24 hours of the
- Not enough cells in the sample.