Definition

The cervix is the opening to the uterus (womb). It can be seen at the top of the vagina. The cells on the cervix can become cancerous. The change from normal cells to cancer cells takes time. Changes detected early can be treated before cancer develops. A Pap test is a way to look for changing or cancerous cells on the cervix.

Cervix

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Reasons for Test

A Pap test is often done as part of a pelvic exam. It is done to check cervical cells for changes ( cervical dysplasia ) that could develop into cancer. It can also detect cancer cells.

The current recommendations are:

  • If you are aged 21-29 years—have the Pap test every two years
  • If you are aged 30 or older—have the Pap test every three years
  • If you are aged 65 or older—You may be able to stop having Pap tests if you have had three normal results in a row and no abnormal results in the past 10 years.
  • Note: You will need to have Pap tests done more often if you have abnormal results or certain conditions, like a suppressed immune system or a history of cervical dysplasia or cervical cancer. Talk to your doctor about the right screening schedule for you.

What to Expect

Prior to Test

  • Do not schedule the Pap test during your menstrual period. If possible, schedule it two weeks after the first day of your period.
  • Do not use vaginal creams, medicines, or douches for 72 hours before the test.
  • Do not use contraceptives such as spermicidal foams, creams, or jellies for 72 hours before the test.
  • Do not have sex for 24 hours before the test.

Tell your doctor if you:

  • Are having your period
  • Are pregnant
  • Have had a previous Pap test showing abnormalities
  • Have had any cervical procedures, like LEEP .
  • Are sexually active
  • Have been exposed to HPV or other sexually-transmitted diseases
  • Have had abnormal vaginal discharges or vaginal infections
  • Have had surgery, radiation treatment , or chemotherapy
  • Are taking birth control pills , hormone pills, or using hormone cream

Description of Test

You will lie on your back on an examination table. You will place your feet in foot rests. The doctor will insert a speculum into your vagina. It will gently open your vagina. A fine brush or spatula will be used to wipe the walls of the cervix. The speculum will be removed. The cervical cells that stuck to the tools will be placed in a fluid-filled bottle. The cells will then be sent to a lab for testing.

After Test

You will be able to leave after the test is done. You may have a small amount of bloody discharge after the test.

How Long Will It Take?

The pelvic exam takes less than five minutes.

Will It Hurt?

A Pap test is generally painless. You may feel some pressure or a small cramp when the cervix is wiped to gather cells.

Results

The results of your Pap test are sent to your doctor within 2-3 weeks. Your doctor will inform you of the results. If needed, she will talk to you about follow-up testing or treatment:

  • If cells are normal, no treatment is needed. You will continue your regular pap test screens.
  • If an infection is found, treatment will be prescribed.
  • If abnormalities are found, further tests will be done. Once your doctor determines the cause, she will discuss treatment options with you. Further tests may include:
    • Colposcopy —examination of the vagina and cervix with a low-power microscope
    • Biopsy —removal of a small amount of cervical tissue for further testing

Call Your Doctor

After the test, call your doctor if any of the following occurs:

  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Foul vaginal odor, pain, or unusual vaginal discharge
  • Severe abdominal pain or swelling
In case of emergency, CALL 911 .