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What is a Pap test?

Patricia Geraghty, NP
Women's Health

A pap test looks for cervical cancer cells but will also find precancerous changes and thus allow the prevention of cancer. The pap test does not test for cancer in any other organ, such as the uterus or ovaries. Other tests such as HPV, chlamydia and gonorrhea screening may done with the same sample taken for the pap test. Ask your clinician if any testing is being added to your pap test.

A Pap test is a simple procedure that is a safe and highly accurate screening tool for cervical cancer and precancerous abnormalities of the cervix.

After a speculum (the standard device used to examine the cervix) is placed in the vagina, cells are taken from the surface of the cervix with a cotton swab then smeared onto a glass slide or in a liquid solution. Another sample is taken from the T-zone (or the transition zone, the area of transition between cervical cells and uterus cells) with a tiny wooden or plastic spatula, or a tiny brush. The "liquid-based" Pap tests may provide a higher degree of accuracy and reliability.

For women who have had total hysterectomies (in which the cervix is removed), cells are taken from the walls of the vagina.

The slide or vial is delivered to a laboratory where a cytotechnologist (a lab professional who reviews your tissue sample) and, when necessary, a pathologist (a healthcare professional who examines bodily tissue samples) examines the sample for any abnormalities. Each smear contains roughly 50,000 to 300,000 cells.

Though not infallible, when performed regularly, the Pap smear detects a significant majority of cervical cancers.

Dr. Sharyn N. Lewin, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrician & Gynecologist)

The Pap test or Pap smear looks at cells taken from the surface of the cervix (the lower end of the uterus or womb connecting the vagina/birth canal to the uterus) during a routine pelvic exam. It screens for cervical cancer and no other gynecological cancer. Since it's introduction, Pap smear screening for cervical cancer has dramatically reduced the number of women developing cervical cancer as well as dying from cervical cancer.

Paula Greer
Midwifery Nursing Specialist

A pap smear is a test used to check for cervical cancer. To do the test a speculum is placed in the vagina to allow visualization of the cervix or opening of the uterus. A swab is used to get a sample from the cervix and sent to the lab to test for cancer cells. Sometimes other tests are performed on the same specimen collection like tests for the human papilloma or HPV virus, gonorrhea and chlamydial infections.

The Pap test, or Pap smear, is a simple screening test for cancer of the cervix. The cervix is the narrow lower part of the uterus, which forms the opening between the uterus and the vagina. In this test, a few cells are taken from the cervix and sent to the lab to be studied. The Pap test checks for cell changes that could lead to cancer.

Dr. Jill A. Grimes, MD
Family Practitioner

A pap smear is a test for cervical cancer. A medical professional inserts an instrument into the vagina so they can see the cervix and then uses a brush or cotton-tipped applicator to collect cells from the cervix. This specimen is sent to a cytology lab, where a cytotechnologist looks at the cells under a microscope. If any abnormalities are detected, the smear is routed to a pathologist for further evaluation.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.